(1 year, 11 months ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move,
That this House asserts that the loss of 21,000 police officers, 18,000 police staff and 6,800 police community support officers since 2010 in addition to the reduction in the number of armed officers has damaged community safety and public security; is concerned that central government funding to local police forces will fall in real terms for the eighth consecutive year in 2018-19 and in addition that there will be a £54m shortfall in funding for counter-terror policing; notes with alarm the assessment of the National Police Chiefs Council that this will mean tough choices for policing in the year ahead; supports the conclusion of the UK Statistics Authority that the Prime Minister could have led the public to conclude incorrectly that the Government were providing an additional £450m for police spending in 2018-19; and calls on the Government to take steps to increase officer numbers by 10,000 and to fulfil the full counter-terrorism policing requirements laid out by police chiefs for the year ahead and to report to the House by Oral Statement and written report before 19 April 2018 on what steps it is taking to comply with this resolution.
I want to start by paying tribute to the men and women who serve in our police service. Last week many of us attended services in Westminster in memory of those who were killed or injured on Westminster bridge, as well as PC Keith Palmer who was murdered defending all of us in this House. The grief for his family, friends and colleagues is unimaginable, but I hope that in time they can draw comfort and strength from the bravery and heroism that he showed on that terrible day. I would also like to praise the bravery of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, whose recovery is ongoing after he attended the attempted murder in Salisbury, and the unnamed police officer from Greater Manchester who was injured in Whalley Range on Sunday by a man wielding a sword. The officer and his colleagues continued to contain the incident, despite their lives clearly being at risk. They are reminders, if ever one were needed, of the dangers that our police face every day to keep us safe.
Last time we debated police funding, the Minister repeatedly accused Labour Members of peddling fake news in saying that the Tory Government were cutting the police. It came as something of a surprise, and indeed a relief, to us and every police officer in the country to hear that policing was no longer being cut, yet last week the independent UK Statistics Authority ruled on those funding claims from the Government. It turns out that it was not fake news after all. Sir David Norgrove said that
“the Prime Minister’s statement…could have led the public to conclude incorrectly that central government is providing an additional £450 million for police spending in 2018/19.”
He has taken the unusual step of writing to the Home Office about the misleading tweets that were put out. Given that the Home Secretary confirmed to the Home Affairs Committee this morning that she would be complying with Sir David’s advice from now on, I hope we do not hear those claims repeated in today’s debate.
Also last week, the independent inspectorate of constabulary laid bare the breathtaking pressure that the police are now under, thanks to the financial constraints imposed on them by the Government and by rising demand. It said that it was still very concerned
“that policing is under significant stress. On occasions, that stress stretches some forces to such an extent that they risk being unable to keep people safe in some very important areas of policing.”
The admission that the police service is at times unable to keep us safe should shock the House and spur the Government to action.
In the past seven years, Government funding to Cleveland police has fallen in real terms by 39%, resulting in the loss of 450 officers and 50 police community support officers. Does my hon. Friend agree that community safety is suffering because of police cuts?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary makes that clear. Not only have we lost officers, but thousands of emergency calls are waiting in queues, with not enough officers to respond. Some victims facing an emergency get no response at all. Police have yet to assess the risk posed by over 3,300 individuals on the sex offender register. We simply do not know whether those individuals are a threat to the public. There is also a shortage of more than 5,000 investigative officers, as unsolved crimes rose to 2.1 million last year.
What is most striking about that assessment is that the problems facing the police are so clearly a result of having too few officers and staff to meet too high a demand.
I would be very interested to know how the Opposition would make good their policing pledges and how they would fund them.
If the hon. Gentleman read Labour’s manifesto, he would see that we committed to funding 10,000 neighbourhood officers by reversing the cuts to capital gains tax. That was laid out in our manifesto and forms part of the motion before the House, which we will have a welcome opportunity to vote on.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that crime has a cost? People and businesses are paying the price for the lack of policing to keep them safe in our communities, and it is high time the Government took that seriously.
Absolutely. If the Government were in opposition they would be crying bloody murder, because there is not only an economic but a human cost to the enormous rise in crime that we have seen as a result of their cuts in police funding.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent case. Does she accept that one of the hidden areas is small shop retail crime? Nowadays when goods have been stolen, it is virtually impossible to get a police officer to go to the scene of the crime, and as a result many smaller shops have gone out of business.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Small businesses are facing huge costs thanks to the cuts in police numbers. Many shoplifting offences are not prosecuted, and often police officers do not attend at all. The same applies to residential burglaries and many other crimes. Offenders are going scot-free because the police simply do not have the resources to attend.
Since the Tories came to power, we have lost 21,000 police officers, 18,000 police staff and 6,800 police community support officers, but I fear that, rather than facing up to this crisis, the Government are determined to try to spin their way out of it. This will be the eighth consecutive year in which Government funding for local forces has fallen.
We have lost nearly a third of our police strength in Westminster. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the saddest aspects of the situation is the loss of the safer neighbourhood policing function, which has been critical not only in fighting crime but in building the community cohesion, relationships and crime prevention work that so many of my constituents now want to be rebuilt?
Neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of our policing system, and it has been the greatest loss following the police cuts of the last eight years. I shall say more about that shortly.
Between 2010 and 2015, cuts in policing amounted to £2.3 billion. At least in those days the Government used to admit that they were making cuts. Between 2015 and 2017, funding for local forces fell by a further £400 million in real terms, and in the year ahead central Government funding will fall by more than £100 million in real terms. It is an insult to the public and to the police that Ministers refuse to admit to those cuts.
The Government will know that in the year ahead, any increase in funds for local forces will only come through a hike in the council tax paid by local residents, and those residents will be angry at being asked to pay more and get less thanks to cuts that the Tories have made from Westminster. What is more, that method of funding the police is fundamentally unfair.
I appreciate that I have yet not been in the House for a year, but I am slightly confused. If the money does not come from taxation, where else does the hon. Lady think it comes from?
In their announcement on police funding, the Government attempted to claim to the public that they were making £450 million available. That is not the case. They are asking people to pay more in tax, and we are asking them to be clear about that. They are forcing local ratepayers to pay more for a lesser service because they are making real-terms cuts in police funding.
As I have said, funding the police through council tax is fundamentally unfair. Last week the chief constable of West Midlands police issued a warning about the aggressive use of council tax to raise funds, because the police forces that have already been forced to make the most cuts will raise the smallest amount of money. West Midlands, which has lost a staggering 2,000 officers since 2010, will be able to raise a little over 2% of its budget from the precept, and will still have to make substantial cuts next year thanks to the unfunded pay rise, pension fund strain and other inflationary pressures. Surrey, which has half the population of the west midlands, will raise almost the equivalent in cash terms.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as the funding issue, there are further demands on our police as a result of the failure of many other Government policies? The number of homeless people, and the failure to deal with mental health issues, to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred earlier today, are putting additional pressures on the police at exactly the time when the Government are cutting the resources that they have.
That is absolutely right. While the Government have cut police funding to unprecedented levels, the demands on our police have also been unprecedented. Some 83% of calls to command and control centres are not crime related: they relate to vulnerabilities and mental health issues—as well as physical health issues, because the ambulance service is not able to attend. And they relate to missing people.
The police are increasingly unable to respond to the basic tasks that we ask of them, to tackle crime in our communities. Police chiefs have warned the Government about the issue time and again. They have warned that local policing is under such strain that the
“legitimacy of policing is at risk as the relationship with communities…is fading to a point where prevention, early intervention and core engagement…are…ineffective.”
When I tried to raise the issue of the 300 police officers lost in Suffolk last year, the Minister thought I had said “Southwark”, and tried to blame it on the Mayor of London. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not the fault of the Mayor of London, the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk or any of the other police and crime commissioners around the country? It is the fault of the Government.
Absolutely. It is a trick of the Government to blame PCCs for cuts made to policing in their communities; PCCs can only play the hand they have been dealt by Westminster. The choices of the Mayor of London, who receives 70% of his budget from central Government, are few and far between.
As I said, neighbourhood policing is the absolute bedrock of the model of policing in this country. It is almost wholly responsible for building and maintaining relationships with communities and it is the eyes and ears of our counter-terror police. We need sustained and large-scale recruitment of police officers across the country. In the past year, the task has become even more urgent as the proportion of officers assigned to local policing has fallen by a further 10%. Little wonder, then, that crime is soaring: by 14% in the past year alone. Although we accept that police recording has improved, nothing can detract from the horrendous rises in knife and gun crime, at 21% and 20% respectively. People know that the challenges facing the police are many and multifaceted, but they also know that there are simply too few officers to meet too high a demand, and that means that community safety is put at risk.
The year just past has also seen a concerted and sustained increase in Islamist and far-right terrorism.
I put on the record my thanks to Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster who led some of the work dealing with the “punish a Muslim day” letter at the north-east counter-terrorism unit. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the face of policing is changing. Given the rise of the far right and increased referrals to Prevent, we should be putting more funding into the police force.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The increased pressure from far right and Islamist terrorism on the police is crippling our local forces. Although the Government have put some money into counter-terrorism, the demand that that then puts on local forces has simply not been covered by the Government’s police settlement. Mark Rowley, the outgoing head of counter-terrorism operations, told the Home Affairs Committee that his organisation has been dealing with a 30% uptick in operations. He warned:
“we have a bigger proportion of our investigations that are at the bottom of the pile and getting little or no work at the moment.”
The report by David Anderson QC on the four fatal attacks of last year drew the same conclusions. Those people know that counter-terrorism policing is under such strain that investigations into individuals of serious concern are being put on hold.
What was the Government’s response? They chose to underfund counter-terror policing to the tune of £54 million. With a terror threat now described by experts as “stratospheric”, it is unconscionable to leave such a black hole in our counter-terror budget.
The Minister has said time and again that he will ensure that the police have the resources they need to do their job. There will not be a chief constable in this country who can tell him they have the resources they need to fully protect the public and provide a professional service in the current climate.
The Government have failed in the most fundamental duty of any Government: to keep their citizens safe and free from harm. Their ideological cuts have left the public exposed to rising crime and a rising terrorism threat and they are letting down millions of victims as crimes go uninvestigated and unsolved. Today, MPs have the chance to put this right—to put community safety and security before ideology. I commend this motion to the House.
Let me start with some common ground. I echo the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) in registering the profound respect and admiration of Government Members for the dedication, commitment and bravery of our police officers. She is quite right to remind us that in this last week alone we have taken the time to remember the sacrifice of PC Keith Palmer on the cobbles a few yards from here, as well as welcoming the discharge from hospital of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, and I am sure that we all want to wish the brave police officer in Manchester a speedy recovery from the injuries he incurred when confronting an individual armed with a sword. She was right to say that those are all powerful reminders of the dangers that our officers routinely face on our behalf every day in every force. Of course they deserve our thanks, but as I have said before, they deserve more than that. We have a responsibility to ensure that they have the right tools and resources to do the job properly.
I would welcome a proper debate on how we police modern Britain effectively in a digital age in which more and more crime takes place online, and at a time when at last we as a society have got better at turning over the stones and supporting the victims of crimes that have been hidden for far too long, including domestic violence, sexual abuse and modern slavery. I would welcome a proper debate at this time of accelerating change when we have to be sure that police officers are more representative of the communities they serve and have the modern equipment and skills—not least digital skills—to stay on top of change. Judging by this motion, however, we will not be having that debate today.
The Minister has rightly praised the bravery of our police forces in their working lives. Does he therefore agree that it is simply not fair to leave them overstretched, as is happening in my large rural constituency of High Peak, where the police have to fob off youths’ antisocial behaviour by claiming that help and support are on the way when they know that that is not the case? The thin blue line is being stretched far too thinly, and this is putting the police in even more danger.
The thin blue line is stretched, and the Government recognise that. That is why we have brought forward a funding settlement that will see at least £450 million of new investment in our police system next year, and that will see this country investing over £1 billion more in our police system than we did in 2015-16. That is a funding settlement that the hon. Lady voted against.
The Minister has just talked about £450 million. Does he agree with the view of Sir David Norgrove, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, that the Prime Minister misled the public—
I said “the public”, and I am quoting the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, who said that the PM had misled the public over claims that there was an extra £450 million for the police in 2018-19.
I will come on to clarify the numbers in a way that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will welcome. As he knows from our debates on this subject, I have always made it clear that the police funding settlement is a combination of contributions from the central taxpayer and the local tax payer, and if we want more investment in policing, it is the taxpayer that pays. Also, the statisticians were quite clear in recognising that the complexities were getting over-complex in such things as tweets and PMQs.
Are not the rows of empty Benches behind the Minister the most powerful demonstration of the Conservative party’s failure on policing? I am told that the Conservative Whips have had to text Tory MPs to ask them to come in and make those Benches look a bit fuller. Is it not an embarrassment that the party that once prided itself on law and order now has so few people who are willing to come in and defend its record on policing?
This side of the House voted for a funding settlement that will see additional investment of at least £450 million in our policing system; the other side of the House voted against it. Having looked at the motion and having listened to the shadow Minister’s speech, I recognise that the serious debate we need to have about how we police modern Britain will not happen today. In fact, the motion on the Order Paper contains the now predictable Labour cocktail of shroud waving, smokescreens, disregard for truth and complexity and, as we heard in the response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), the complete evasion of any detail of its own policies, which is a complete abdication of responsible opposition.
I would be delighted to give way to a former police Minister.
Will the Minister confirm a few things for me? First, in May 2010, there were 21,000 more police officers on the beat than there are now. Secondly, the burden on the taxpayer was not as high. Thirdly, the level of crime was lower. Fourthly, during the five years of the coalition Government the Liberal Democrats—the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) just intervened—voted to cut police funding every time.
I am about to come on to the history before I get on to the future. Again, I find it disappointing that Labour’s approach to the complexity of modern policing and its highly complex challenges is, as usual, to look back. Labour Members want to take us back to 2010, as the right hon. Gentleman has just encouraged me to do. Yes, we have a smaller police system than we did in 2010. Why? Because the coalition Government had to take radical action to get on top of a reckless and unsustainable deficit. Against a background of falling crime and stable demand on the police, it was recognised, not least by the thoughtful former shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham, that there was considerable scope to improve the efficiency of the police.
In London—our biggest force—we have broadly the same number of police officers as we did in 2008, we have less recorded crime than in 2008, and the police operation is costing the taxpayer £700 million a year less than in 2008. In Labour language, that means savage Tory cuts. To the rest of the world, it is a more efficient police force. I believed the Metropolitan Police Commissioner—[Interruption.] Labour MPs do not like to hear this, but I believed the commissioner, the excellent Cressida Dick, when she said:
“I think we can make some further savings. I am confident that the Met at the end of my commissionership might be smaller but could be as effective, if not more effective, through amongst other things the use of technology and different ways of working.”
As we are encouraged to look back, rather than forward, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the police leadership and police and crime commissioners on their impressive work over the past seven years to deliver a more efficient service. I also recognise the contribution that frontline officers and staff have made to that process.
On the behalf of my constituents, I thank the Minister for allowing greater flexibility in the police precept. In Essex, our excellent police, crime and fire commissioner, Roger Hirst, has taken full advantage of the precept, so that we will now be reinforced by an extra 150 police officers, which will take the Essex constabulary back up to 3,000 police, and we warmly welcome them.
I thank my right hon. Friend and other Essex MPs for making representations on behalf of Essex, as other MPs across the House have done for their areas. The point that the shadow Minister deliberately missed is that PCCs asked for that additional flexibility, and she also ignored the fact that they received overwhelming approval when they went to the public and asked the question. It is hypocritical to accuse us of unfair taxation and of using council tax to fund local policing, as Labour is the party that doubled council tax when it was in power. I am not taking any lessons on preventive taxation from the Labour party.
Seventeen young people have been murdered in London since the start of this year, and there is a lack of community policing. We need local links with policing, and police officers should visit schools. What does the Minister have to say about that?
I completely share the hon. Lady’s concern and dismay about the rise of serious violent crime not just on the streets of London but elsewhere. I will come back to that.
As a London MP, I would point out that we have broadly the same number of police officers as we did in 2008-09, when we last saw a spike in knife crime. This is not just about policing or police numbers; it is about the political will to work together to bear down on the problem. We should look back at the success of the previous Mayor of London and his deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), in applying pressure on the problem to move from 28 or 29 deaths a year down to eight. That is eight too many, but there was real movement, which had nothing to do with the number of police officers—the number stayed the same. It was about strategy and political will.
Is it not noticeable that the Opposition’s case is entirely predicated on the amount we spend and on the numbers, not on effectiveness and outcomes? My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, due to a combination of better procurement, smarter use of technology, using community psychiatric nurses embedded in police teams and raising extra funding from the precept, the Sussex police and crime commissioner will recruit an additional 200 police officers in each of the next four years. That is what we can do when we think smart, rather than just getting obsessed with the amount of money spent.
I could not agree more. We are in an environment in which resources are limited, which puts pressure on our system to innovate and work together in new ways. There is excellent leadership in Sussex from Katy Bourne, and I am delighted that we have enabled Sussex to increase the precept to do more and deliver what the people of Sussex want.
Can we just nail the point about whether PCCs asked for this flexibility? Roger Hirst in Essex conducted a survey to ask people across the county whether they would be prepared to pay a little more in council tax in return for more police, and he received a resounding yes.
Yes, he did, and he was not alone. There has been overwhelming support wherever the question has been asked, which is why Roger Hirst and others are on record as supporting the settlement for providing additional funding for police forces in 2018-19. This debate is a complete red herring from the Labour party. If we want increased investment in our policing, it has to be paid for. There are only two ways of paying: either we increase borrowing and the taxpayer pays interest on that borrowing, or we increase taxation. The vast majority of funding for our police system still comes from the central taxpayer, and we felt it appropriate to ask whether people would be prepared to pay an additional 25p a week to support local policing. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming answer was yes.
Does the Minister accept that relying on council tax for increased police funding is fundamentally regressive? Surrey raises half the money locally and Merseyside gets 80% of its funding from central Government. An equivalent increase in council tax gets a lot more for Surrey than it does for Merseyside. It is fundamentally regressive.
I wish the hon. Gentleman had made that argument when he was a member of a Government who doubled council tax. He is right that there is a long-standing issue with variation in the amount of money that forces raise from precepts, which cannot be sorted in one settlement. That is why, to try to create more fairness across the system, this settlement is structured on the basis that PCCs could increase their precept by a number of pounds rather than by a percentage. Again, I make the point that Labour has created a straw man because, even with these changes, the reality is that around three quarters of funding for our police system still comes from the centre. Very little has changed.
The Minister is right about the need for innovation. In Northamptonshire, we now have a senior fire officer effectively in charge of community policing, while a police officer and a fire officer share a patrol vehicle to go around rural areas. At an operational level, it is dovetailing very nicely in Northamptonshire, but we need the Minister to sign off the transfer of governance from the county council to the police and crime commissioner so we can square the circle.
I thank my hon. Friend, not least for his persistence in making that point. He points to Northamptonshire as a beacon of what efficient smart working and collaboration can deliver. I expect to have news on the fire governance issue shortly.
I have given way at least once to the right hon. Gentleman and I need to make some progress so that Back Benchers can participate in this debate.
So much for the past—we are not in 2010 now. Things have changed, not least the pattern of demand on the police, and when demand changes, so must we. Of course, as the Office for National Statistics—our independent national statisticians—makes clear, the most reliable indicator of crime trends in the UK is the national crime survey, and it shows very clearly, although Labour never mentions this, that the long-term trend of our constituents’ experience of traditional crime is down; it is down by almost 40% since 2010. That is the most reliable indicator of crime, according to our independent statisticians, and it shows a long-term of trend of our constituents’ experience of crime continuing to go down. We are talking about 10% year on year, and 40% since 2010. That is to be welcomed, because what is happening in crime needs to be understood. It is complicated, but this is where I take umbrage, because the Labour party is deliberately misrepresenting the situation as far as I can see. We should welcome the trend that the official ONS statistics show, which is that people’s experience of crime continues to fall—
Let me just finish this sentence. The Government are not remotely complacent about that or out of touch with what is happening on the ground. We are well aware that the terrorist risk has evolved and escalated. Since the serious and organised crime strategy was published in 2013, the serious and organised crime threat, which is often not visible to our constituents, has evolved rapidly. We have made significant progress, but we believe there is more we can do to generate a truly comprehensive response, which is why we will publish a new serious and organised crime strategy later this year. As has been mentioned, we are seeing a genuine increase in so-called “low volume, high impact” serious violent crime—there is no getting away from that—which is devastating in its impact. Everyone in the House will share a concern to get on top of that, and we fully intend to do so with the forthcoming launch of the serious violence strategy.
Does the Minister know when the serious violence strategy will actually be published?
It is imminent—and that does mean imminent.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley is right; there is absolutely no doubt that our police are busier than ever. We saw a spike in emergency calls last summer, which has tailed off a bit but did cause problems. Recorded crime has increased significantly. Recorded crime is obviously not the same as people’s experience of crime and it is not what the national crime survey is tracking; obviously, it tracks what the police record. So what is happening there? Again, it is important to be clear about that and to get independent assessment from our statisticians. These are independent statisticians, not me, making it clear that most of this growth is down to two factors. The first is that the police are getting better at recording crime. She registered that, and she will know that they have been criticised for poor performance on that in the past.
Secondly and crucially, and I hope the House will welcome this, we are getting more victims of hidden crime coming forward with allegations that need investigating. This matters enormously, because for far too long victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, rape and modern slavery have not stepped forward, in part because they did not trust the system. The Prime Minister, the former Home Secretary, deserves great credit for this, because she challenged the police to be better at safeguarding the vulnerable and going after hidden crime. When I go to Manchester and I speak to the lady who runs the modern slavery unit there, she shows me a graph detailing an alarming increase in the incidents it is investigating, but she is the first to point out, “Minister, this is not new crime. This has been going on for a very long time. We are just getting better at finding it and investigating.” That is the undercurrent of the shift in recorded crime and if that reflects better police practice and more public confidence in our police system, as we are told, surely that is welcome.
However, it is undeniable that the shift in demand and these investigations are taking the police into more complex and time-consuming work, and that does mean that our police are stretched, as evidenced by the recent Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services PEEL report on effectiveness, which clearly indicated that a minority of forces are struggling to manage demand.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his patience and give way to him.
Does the Minister accept that although the crime survey tends to give a better representation of the crimes that are apparent to the people who take part in it, people who are involved in drug-related and gang-related crime are far less likely to take part in it, meaning that those sorts of crimes are not reflected so well in the survey?
The independent statisticians at the ONS say that the survey, which has run for many years across many thousands of households and been used by successive Labour and Conservative Governments as the most reliable indicator of crime trends, is just that: our most reliable indicator. It is not perfect, but it is our most reliable indicator. It would be quite wrong of me and Conservative Members not to point out, against all shroud waving and talk about soaring crime, that the clear data from the most reliable indicator of crime trends shows that crime is going down. Except—it is very important to say this—we are seeing a genuine increase in low-volume, very high-impact serious violent crime. We are determined to get on top of that.
That is the point on which I wanted the Minister to reflect earlier. He is quite right about the survey evidence and right about some of the increase in recorded crime being down to better reporting and new, more complex crime, but it is absolutely clear that some serious crimes—gun crime, knife crime and the like—are rising. The ONS statisticians are clear in their reports on the crime statistics that there is an increase. I hope the Minister will confirm that and say what he is going to do about it.
I have confirmed that. I acknowledged explicitly, on the record, that that is the one area in which there is clearly a genuine increase. Because the consequences are devastating and it is massively unsettling for people, it is absolutely a top priority for the Home Office and the Government to get on top of it. The action we are taking is in the serious violence strategy which, as I have said, is imminent.
The point I am trying to make is that the Government recognise that there has been a shift in the pattern of demand on the police. We have listened to concerns and responded accordingly, because this is not new. The Prime Minister, who was the previous Home Secretary, recognised that when from 2015, despite the public finances still being in a difficult situation, she led the decision to protect overall police budgets in real terms.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence and 20 years since the launch of the Macpherson inquiry. When she was Home Secretary, the Prime Minister committed to there being a much more diverse workforce. The truth is that the Minister can pick and choose from the numbers that represent how crime is recorded, but he cannot pick and choose the numbers on the diversity of our police forces. What is he going to do to support the Jon Boutchers of this world who are leading on this agenda?
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady about the importance of that agenda. We police by consent, on the basis of trust. That gets harder if the police are seen to be less and less representative of the communities that they serve. It is a long-standing challenge and I completely agree on that. In fairness to the police, the numbers are the best they have been for a very long time, although they are nowhere near where they need to be, not least in terms of leadership role models. It is an issue not just of retention but of how officers are retained and managed through the system. Where the police are taking positive action—I have sat with the Greater Manchester police sergeant who has led the work—they have really moved the needle. If people apply themselves to this issue, what can be done is really impressive, and it is really not rocket science. I have sat next to the Home Secretary at a roundtable on exactly this subject, and our message to police chiefs is that we need to see much more action. The Greater Manchester chief is bringing a plan to the chiefs on exactly that, to find a gear change on the need to improve the diversity of our police force. It is hugely important to us and, assuming the plan is sensible, we will get right behind it. I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important point.
I was talking about the decision of the current Prime Minister to protect police budgets in real terms from 2015. It means that, in 2017-18, we are spending £12.6 billion of public money on our police system compared with £11.9 billion in 2016—an increase of £700 million. As this shift in demand continues, we have recognised the need to go further. Having done our own demand review—a process in which I spoke to, or visited, every police force in England and Wales—we brought to this House what we believe to be a comprehensive funding settlement for 2018-19 and, for the first time, set a direction of travel for 2019-20. In the debate on the settlement back in December, I made it very clear that the settlement, as always, is a combined contribution from the central taxpayer and the local tax payer. I also made it clear that final numbers depended on how police and crime commissioners responded to their new flexibility in relation to precept.
Following the statistical release from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government this morning, I can now confirm what the funding settlement will deliver in 2018-19, and this is based on now hard information on what PCCs will do. I can confirm that we will see an increase of £282 million in council tax precept funding for police forces next year, and a £460 million increase in total funding. We will publish further information on these revised figures shortly.
I hope that the whole House will welcome confirmation of the increase in funding on the assumptions that we made when the settlement went through Parliament—opposed by Labour. All forces will see their direct resource funding protected in real terms in 2018-19, including council tax precept—opposed by Labour. The proportion of forces’ direct resource funding—grant plus money raised through the precept—will increase slightly in 2018-19, compared with 2017-18. It will increase from 30% to 32%.
I hope that the House will welcome the plans put forward by most PCCs to use the additional precept income to protect or improve frontline policing. For example, we have heard about Essex and about Sussex, but in Kent, the PCC, Matt Scott, has empowered the chief constable to recruit around 200 new officers—the largest recruitment drive in the force for several years. In Nottinghamshire, the PCC aims to increase police officer numbers from 1,840 to around 2,000 over the next two years. In Avon and Somerset, the PCC will recruit 300 new police officers and strengthen neighbourhood policing.
Looking ahead to 2019-20, I indicated our willingness to allow PCCs to increase the precept by a similar amount, subject to progress on some efficiency and productivity milestones that we are agreeing with the police and the PCCs. Let me be clear about the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), because we never hear anything about productivity or efficiency from Labour—[Interruption.] No, we do not. We do not ever hear anything. After all these years of belt tightening and austerity, it is still agreed with the police chiefs that there is still at least an additional £100 million a year of inefficiencies on the table which could be saved through more intelligent procurement. After all this time, there are still those savings on the table, and we will continue to pursue them.
The motion mentions concerns about counter-terrorism funding, and we take those very seriously. The Minister for Security and Economic Crime will directly address them in his wind-up, but we are well aware that the threat that we face from terrorism is becoming more complex and more hidden. Funding for counter-terrorism policing has grown steadily since 2010, and the 2015 spending review and strategic defence and security review protected funding for CT policing until 2020-21.
This year, we have provided £28 million of new money to CT policing, going to forces across the country to meet costs relating to those attacks. Separately, we have also provided £9.8 million in special grant funding to cover the cost of the police response to the Manchester arena attack, and a further £7.6 million in special grant funding to London.
I can also confirm—I hope that the House will welcome it—that we have agreed £1.6 million in special grant funding for Wiltshire police this financial year, and further funding as its investigation continues. It is, of course, critical that we ensure that counter-terrorism policing has the resources needed to deal with the threat that we face. That is why, in 2018-19, the counter-terrorism policing budget will go up by 7%, increasing by £50 million of entirely new money to at least £757 million.
The Minister will recognise that armed police response units are critical. He will know that there were 6,906 armed police officers in 2010 and that, as of last March, there are now 6,278—a reduction of 628 or 9% overall. Will the Minister tell us whether that figure changed or moved in the past 12 months, and where does he see the restoration of armed policing?
Allow me to correct a misunderstanding. There is a separate additional funding commitment of £144 million to uplift our armed police capability. We are significantly increasing the number of specialist firearms officers. Once the uplift programme is complete, there will be around 7,000 armed officers—exceeding the number in 2010—in England and Wales who will be better trained and better equipped than ever before.
It is important that we talk about cyber-crime, not least because Labour Members do not, which is surprising because it is the fastest growing source of crime. It is quite clear that our constituents—the public—are increasingly much more likely to be exposed to crime through their computers than they are on the high street. It is a relatively new type of crime. Forces are learning how to better investigate these crimes and support the victims. There are lots of challenges, not least in aligning our local, regional and national capability, and that is why the national cyber-security strategy for 2016 to 2021 is supported by £1.9 billion of transformational investment. I could not begin to tell the House what Labour’s plans are to protect people from cyber-crime; I doubt Labour Members know.
We are living in a period of rapid change. Crime is changing, demand on police is changing, the police are changing and technology is changing everything very fast. But one thing is constant: the unconditional commitment of a Conservative Government to public safety, and upholding law and order. Labour voted against a police settlement that will see an additional £460 million of public investment in our police system next year, including a significant uplift in the counter-terrorism budget. It will mean that this country will be investing £13 billion of public money in our police system next year, which is an increase of over £1 billion on 2015-16. That is a big number. Here is an even bigger number: £55 billion. That is what the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts the country will spend on paying interest on our national debt—debt that was racked up by Labour.
Despite the constraints, we continue to invest to support the police and to work closely with them, including on the serious violence strategy, and on the development of mobile working to transform the productivity of police officers and give them more time on the frontline. We are developing a national wellbeing programme to support frontline officers, and working with the police to develop a long-term vision of what digital technology can do for British policing. All this is to ensure that we do everything we can so that Britain continues to have a modern police force that is on top of change, not chasing it, and that is fit for the challenges of the 21st century.
Before I call the spokesman for the Scottish National party, it will be obvious to the House that a great many people wish to speak and that there is limited time available. Therefore, there will be a time limit of six minutes after the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) has spoken. I give this warning in order that hon. Members who wish to catch my eye can tailor their remarks accordingly.
It is appropriate in a debate on police funding that we reflect on the sacrifice made by officers such as PC Keith Palmer, on the bravery of Nick Bailey and on the work of other officers who daily serve to protect our freedoms in Scotland and elsewhere.
I am grateful to be able to take part in this debate on the Tory Government’s cuts to the police budget in England and Wales. As an SNP MP, I am thankful that Scotland has a separate legal system and that, as such, despite the real-terms cuts to the Scottish Government’s block grant, the SNP has chosen a different path since taking office. While police forces in England and Wales have lost over 13% of their officers since 2007 as a result of UK Government cuts, the Scottish force has grown by 1,000 officers in the same period. With recorded crime at a 43-year low, that is a good result. However, we can never be complacent and we will continue to keep identifying areas of concern to make sure that the public are served better.
The situation facing forces in England and Wales is reaching a critical point. The Tory Government’s failure to support the police adequately has forced local authorities in England to ask local taxpayers to pay more in council tax to fill the funding gap. This financial pressure has led to the Metropolitan police issuing a serious warning to the UK Government that officer numbers could fall by 27,500 by 2021, hindering their ability to tackle local crime and to engage in counter-terrorism measures.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the need to protect against Tory austerity and the cuts that that entails, but does he agree that today’s announcement by the Scottish Police Authority in its draft budget that 100 officers might be cut to save £2.7 million is an unfortunate and regrettable action?
There certainly should be more funding supplied to Scotland. It would have been good if the hon. Gentleman had got behind the call for Scotland to get the VAT that was paid backdated in order to support that, so that some £140 million could have gone into making sure that we could do an even better job.
As I said, this financial pressure has caused problems for the Metropolitan police. Indeed, former Met Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton has said:
“The Met has little choice but to re-organise. It has to do something to meet increased demand with a reduced workforce and fewer buildings after successive cuts to its budget.”
That is an important point. At a time when violent crime is rising in England, the UK Government’s response is to enforce cuts, reducing local police numbers and adding to officers’ already stretched workload.
West Yorkshire police have in excess of 1,000 fewer officers now than in 2010, which is obviously having an impact on response times—if people are responded to at all. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult for the Conservatives to call themselves the party of law and order in this context?
Indeed. We have seen that where there are fewer officers, there is more crime. Where we have additional officers—for example, in Scotland, as I have said—the impact on crime has been the exact opposite.
The funding pressures facing the Met should concern us all, particularly considering the counter-terrorism work that they engage in to keep us all safe. According to Sophie Linden, London’s deputy Mayor for policing:
“The terrorist attacks put big demands on counter-terrorism policing, but also on the Met police. For every pound spent by counter-terrorism policing, £2 is spent out of the Met budget to respond.”
The UK Government simply cannot jeopardise counter-terrorism work. I encourage them to engage with the London authorities to ensure that they have all the necessary resources to continue their excellent work to keep Londoners, and all who work in or visit the city, safe from the evils of terrorism.
I am not likely to be chatting on many doorsteps in England and Wales, but when I am out speaking to my constituents in Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey, one of the priorities they want for their communities is to see our local police officers walking our streets—in our city, our towns and our villages. I am sure that voters in England and Wales would like to see the same level of policing in their communities. The anger felt by people across England and Wales towards this Government’s unwillingness to support the police properly is therefore completely understandable.
I can also appreciate the anger regarding the UK Government’s spin about their cuts to police budgets. This was wrong not only for the public but for those who keep us safe. It must have been embarrassing for the Prime Minister when she was rebuked about her claims that the Government were providing additional funding to local police forces. The chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, released a statement on this point, saying that the Prime Minister’s claim could have led the public to conclude “incorrectly” that the Government were providing an extra £450 million for police spending over the next financial year. I am sure that the funding outlined by the Minister today will come under the same kind of scrutiny. The Government cannot hide behind political spin. They need to respect the police and the public and provide the genuine funding that will help keep communities safe.
The hon. Gentleman speaks about political spin on decisions. Does he regret the SNP Government’s decision to centralise our eight police forces into one national force—Police Scotland? When he is knocking on doors in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, do his constituents tell him that our service is poorer as a result of that?
Everything that the hon. Gentleman says is belied by the statistics and the reports that have come out. Crime is at a 43-year low. It is down nearly 40%. People feel safer on their streets in Scotland, which I will come to later.
If this Government can find £1 billion for the Democratic Unionist party down the back of the sofa, they can support their police properly. They only need to find and show the political will to do so. The Scottish Government have set an example of how to support our police forces. One reason why the SNP continues to be popular is that we recognise how important a well-funded police service is to local—[Interruption.] Scottish Tory Members shout from a sedentary position, but they obviously have not looked at the recent polls, which underline what is going on.
I will make some progress, but I may come back to the hon. Gentleman later.
We recognise how important a well-funded police service is to local people. One of our most popular and effective policies was, as I said, recruiting 1,000 additional police officers. When I knock on doors in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, people say they are grateful that there are more police visible in their communities these days.
That is in stark contrast with the Tory Government’s shameful record, which has seen police numbers fall by over 13% from 2007 to 2017. In reality, that means there are 32 officers per 10,000 people in Scotland, compared with only 21 officers per 10,000 in England and Wales. That is over 50% more police officers in Scotland.
The Scottish Government understand that our police authorities have to be equipped for the demands of the 21st century. However, meeting those demands does not mean abandoning the principle of local policing. I am delighted that the Scottish Government’s “Policing 2026” strategy sets out a commitment to retaining police numbers and to the value of local policing. It is because of that that the public continue to have confidence in our police forces.
The Scottish crime and justice survey shows that public confidence in policing is strong, with the majority of people responding to the survey saying that local police are doing an excellent job. Indeed, the survey said that people in Scotland feel safer than ever before, with 77% saying they feel safe or very safe in their neighbourhoods after dark—the highest score ever recorded by the survey. It also estimated that overall crime had fallen by a third since 2008-09.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has twice mentioned crime falling. Does he accept the criticism that the SNP has received in Scotland for underestimating violent crime? In Scotland, if someone is punched, kicked or even hit with a weapon, that is classed as an offence and not a violent crime. The official victim toll of just under 7,000 rockets to under 70,000 when we include all assaults.
The hon. Gentleman tries bravely but daftly to contradict the experiences of the Scottish people. I have just given the statistics from the survey conducted, which showed that people felt safer than ever before in Scotland. That is a fairly desperate attempt.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Many of my constituents feel that rural police forces have added challenges, as the population is spread across a large area. Does he agree that in reviewing the central grant and how it is allocated, the Government should strengthen the criteria used to determine the specific needs of rural areas?
That is an excellent suggestion for the communities the hon. Gentleman represents.
As I have said, it is because of the value of local policing that the public continue to have confidence in our police forces in Scotland. However, sustaining healthy police numbers is not an end goal in itself, as we want more police on the beat to create safer communities. It is no coincidence that, as has been mentioned, recorded crime in Scotland has fallen by about 40% in the past decade. It is important to stress that that is down to the hard work of police officers across Scotland in doing their job. Although I am not for one minute saying that everything is perfect in Scotland, the UK Government could follow in the footsteps of the Scottish Government and work with our police forces, instead of against them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that an excellent example of where Scotland has led on policing and reducing violent crime is the work of the violence reduction unit in Glasgow? It has had a huge impact with a reduction in knife crime and violent crime, particularly among young people, in the city.
That is an excellent example of an initiative that is delivering real results for people and, in this instance, improving safety for people, and lessons from it are being rolled out across Scotland to improve policing.
As we look to future challenges, it is worth noting that Brexit may pose serious problems about how to tackle crime, terrorism and security threats. Membership of the EU has been massively helpful in the fight against crime and terrorism, due to agencies such as Europol. This allows our countries to work together against criminals and crimes that do not respect national borders—hard or soft. We should all be concerned that the Home Affairs Committee has concluded that it will be incredibly difficult to replicate similar arrangements after Brexit. The UK Government and the Brexiteers have got us into a mess, and they must find a way to ensure that we are able to combat international terrorism and organised crime after Brexit.
Was the hon. Gentleman as surprised as I was—I am a member of the Home Affairs Committee—to hear this morning from the Home Secretary that for these two years her Department will have been granted nearly £500 million to deal with the cost of Brexit? That will be spent on computer systems, customs officers, border officials and so on, instead of the 9,000 police officers it could have paid for.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about the priorities for investment, and about policies being pursued that will actually put those priorities at serious risk, if not rule them out of being implemented at all. This is one area where the narrative should not be about a hard Brexit at all costs.
The challenges facing police budgets and counter-terrorism activities should concern us all. Our police officers protect us each and every day that they are on the beat. As many of us have experienced right here in Parliament, when trouble arises and we are told to run away from it, police officers run towards it, helping to keep us safe. The UK Government should finally do the right thing, and give the police the same level of support that those officers show us.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice regarding the amendment and correction of the record. In the previous speech, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) claimed that Labour had not supported VAT refunds to the Scottish police service. In reality, Labour’s stated position at the autumn statement was that we called for a VAT exemption of £140 million to be refunded, with the money to be ring-fenced and earmarked for the emergency services in Scotland. Will you advise me on how the record might be amended?
I think the hon. Gentleman knows—he has not been here for very long, but he is a quick learner—that that is not a point of order for the Chair. It is a point of debate in the very debate in which we are engaging at the moment. The way in which he can put his point to the House is to speak in the debate, or to intervene on someone else in order to make it. However, he does not now need do so, having made his point very well—although not, I have to say, in the right way or at the right time.
I commend the speech by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, who spoke with a lot of sense and compassion about policing. He recognises that if we had countless amounts of money, we would love to spend a lot more, but that we need to be careful about how we spend money, because it is not our money; it is the people’s money—taxpayers’ money.
I associate myself with the remarks that everybody has made about the fantastic work that police forces do on our behalf. The police often run towards danger, when our natural instinct is to run away from it. Sometimes, as we have seen here in Parliament, people lose their lives looking after the people they are paid to protect. No one can fail to be very grateful for the work that they do at all times on our behalf.
The hon. Lady represents a constituency in Derbyshire, as do I. Is she not concerned, as I am, that police in Derbyshire tell me that they are being put in more danger because of the cuts? There are 411 fewer officers, so police officers have to respond to dangerous incidents on their own, putting them in even more danger than they should be in.
I thank the hon. Lady for that comment. I will talk a lot about Derbyshire. I recognise that she came into the House recently, but the number of police officers is broadly similar to what we have had for some time.
When Members of Parliament met the police and crime commissioner, Councillor Hardyal Dhindsa, recently, he was not able to tell us how he would spend more money if he got it, he could not tell us what his budget covered and he was not able to give us any facts whatsoever. We have looked at his budget, and he is not as desperate for funding as he claims.
Interestingly, the police and crime commissioner spends a lot of his time going around parish councils in Derbyshire, frightening the life out of parish councillors, who do their very best for the people they represent, often with no political affiliation—certainly in my area. He is telling them that there are cuts, so he cannot do this and he cannot do that. He has got rid of most of the police in the rural areas I represent. The parish councillors are really worried about the future when they do not need to be. Yes, he has closed police stations and reduced services in much of my area, but the area that he represents as a councillor does not have to face any cuts. He should look much more at how he can spend the money more efficiently and effectively, because in Derbyshire, as in most places, the majority of the funding comes from the Government grant and the rest comes from council tax.
The police in Derbyshire are having to do many more things than they used to do, particularly in respect of domestic violence, rape and modern slavery in particular, which there has been a lot of in Derbyshire. There has also been grooming of young girls. With Operation Retriever, it was the first place in the country where it was found that young men were grooming girls and trafficking them. We have prosecuted many people successfully for that.
Since 2011, Derbyshire police have put significant amounts of money into their reserves. Between 2010 and 2016, during the so-called austerity period, the reserves increased by 60%, yet the number of police officers went down by more than 18%. Those numbers are now going up—the police are recruiting as we speak. The police and crime commissioner justifies the need for more money by saying that he faces cuts.
I make no comment other than to say that my understanding is that in the west midlands, the police and crime commissioner has reserves of more than £100 million.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Why do police and crime commissioners need these enormous reserves when they talk about cuts all the time?
No, I will not.
Derbyshire was the only force nationally not to sign up for the outsourcing of back-office services, a measure that was proposed to increase efficiency and make savings during this so-called period of austerity. Clearly, that is a logical way to save money by being much more efficient. Similar-sized forces in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, which surround Derbyshire, have smaller reserves than Derbyshire.
Derbyshire police were saving up money to spend some of it—only some of it—on a new fire and police headquarters, which was desperately needed, but that was not all the money they kept. I was very interested to see that Essex has a police, fire and crime commissioner—the first in the country. I might recommend that if I thought it would be good for Derbyshire, but with the current incumbent, it certainly would not be good for Derbyshire because he would not know where his budget was.
The police and crime commissioner for Derbyshire clearly does not want to increase efficiency and make savings. It is clearly an ideological decision by this left-wing police and crime commissioner who does not want to change anything, because he wants to blame it all on the Conservative Government. There are lots of examples of waste: in the last budget, he proposed extra expenditure provisions—much more spending than has ever been spent before—on hotels and conferences. Now, why would that be when he says he cannot afford police officers?
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, I will not give way. I have limited time. I am sorry.
It is clearly better to have better budgeting, which he needs to be implementing considering the income generated by Derbyshire police through such methods as vehicle maintenance and property leasing. I find it concerning that between 2014-15 and 2015-16 catering expenses have doubled. That money could have been spent on police officers, who we need for the additional crimes they need to investigate, such as cyber-crime and the pornography that is being generated and people are watching in Derbyshire.
The Derbyshire police need to spend money on their IT systems, which are very out of date, and they need to look at the terrible situation, faced by all areas of the country, of trying to keep tabs on the perpetrators of terrorism. We have had them in Derby. We have had terrorist suspects, shootings and all sorts of things over many years. The police and crime commissioner needs to look at how he can focus his efforts on proper policing, giving value for money for the people of Derbyshire and providing a much better service.
I am extremely glad that we are having this debate this evening, because crime and antisocial behaviour is the number one issue raised with me on the doorstep, in my surgery and in my mailbox.
People in my community are deeply concerned about rising crime and antisocial behaviour. They tell me they are scared of leaving the house after dark and many say they feel besieged by the antisocial behaviour they see in their local areas. They are angry at the devastating damage being done, and I have received a huge number of petitions calling for more officers. Many people have attended public meetings to share their concerns. Local businesses on Redcar High Street and across our town centres in Eston, Normanby, Grangetown, South Bank, Ormesby, Dormanstown, and Marske have all told me they fear the threat of burglaries and damage to property, which is on the rise. As the Minister knows, these businesses already feel the pressure from huge job losses and stagnant wages in our area.
We have had a number of public meetings recently called by residents—not by politicians—who are desperate for action. I attended one recently in east Redcar. This is what people told me. One elderly lady said:
“We are too afraid to leave our homes after dark. We feel under siege in our own community.”
Another resident told me:
“When I am coming in on a night I feel very vulnerable.”
“Whatever niceties are put in place in this town will be ruined in this lawless place.”
“Bring back our police. At the moment it’s such a scary place to live.”
It gives me no pleasure to say that because Redcar is a fantastic place to live. I know that as a resident. It is full of wonderful people, but a small minority are causing problems. The police are desperate to tackle them, but they feel that they are working with at least one hand tied behind their back because their resources are stretched so thinly.
The crime statistics for our area are deeply worrying. Reported crime across the Cleveland police area has increased by 18.3% since 2010, when the Conservative Government came into office. For Redcar and Cleveland Borough, violent crime in particular is up by a massive 46.4% since March 2011. That is absolutely shocking.
The hon. Lady and I share Redcar and Cleveland Borough between us. I fully accept that there is concern about crime, but there is also a question about how resource is allocated within the borough. Does she concede that Cleveland police have, I think, the fourth highest ratio of officers per head of population of any force in the country?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. He has made the point about resources before. Given his concern about moving resources to east Cleveland, I ask him where exactly he would like to take those resources from. Whether they come from Redcar, Middlesbrough, Stockton or Hartlepool, we are all stretched for resources. He has made that point before, but resources are stretched extremely thin.
It is no coincidence that crime has gone up when there are fewer officers on our streets. The introduction of neighbourhood policing was a massive step forward in tackling crime and making people feel safe. The last Labour Government made it a priority to ensure that local neighbourhoods had their own dedicated teams, with a visible and accessible presence. Sadly, that important initiative is being slowly eroded. I do not for one moment fault the work of our police force, which has been fantastic. Our hard-working men and women are doing their utmost to protect our communities, but when there are fewer people to cover the same ground and deal with more crime, they are swimming against the tide, and the Government must take responsibility.
I, too, have a Grangetown in my constituency. We also suffer from challenges from drugs, antisocial behaviour, burglaries and so on, but a big difference is that the Welsh Labour Government continue to invest in police community support officers in our communities in Wales, so we have that presence in communities that is able to respond to issues. It is not perfect, but at least we have that resource on the street in communities.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. I envy him for having that support. We have lost over 50 PCSOs in our area. They provided that visible reassurance to the public and were there as the eyes and ears for our police force. That vital role has been cut and that has had, and continues to have, a huge impact.
In Cleveland police, we have lost £40 million from cuts to our budget, and since 2011, we have lost over 500 officers. That is going to have an impact; these cuts have consequences. When I raised that with the Government, they insisted that they are providing extra funding for policing, but that is just not right. In reality, the grant settlement that the Government provided for my local force does not provide a single penny of extra money to allow for a single extra officer to be recruited. For my area, with the 2% pay award, inflation and other cost increases, the settlement means a real-terms cut of £1.6 million, which is equivalent to losing another 50 to 60 officers.
Even worse, local taxpayers are again being asked to put their hands in their pockets through the local precept just to maintain the status quo, so people are paying twice for less of a service than they have previously received. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) rightly said, this is a regressive tax. There is no reason why my constituents, who, on average, have some of the lowest wages and the highest unemployment in the country, should be paying exactly the same rate as people in the Minister’s constituency.
I am starting to see a very worrying trend regarding private protection, because people are losing such confidence in the police’s ability to support them. Some of my constituents have been driven in desperation to pay for private protection companies to protect their homes and businesses. These companies offer protection packages for around £13 a house that involve offering security, responding to incidents and investigating crimes. I am deeply worried about the legality of such companies and the fact that vulnerable people feel obliged to pay for protection because they have no faith in the law being upheld. It is a damning indictment of the Government’s austerity agenda, under which police funding has been cut back to the extent that my constituents are worried that their local force does not have the resources to keep them safe.
On the Prime Minister’s watch—first as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister—police budgets have been slashed and crime has shot through the roof. I am afraid that her Government are totally out of touch with the reality on our streets and our estates. The hard work of our dedicated police officers is being undermined by a Government who do not understand the impact of their austerity on our communities. If the cuts do not stop and investment in neighbourhood policing does not start, I fear that people who are desperate to protect their families and communities will take matters into their own hands—that is what they are telling me word for word. I repeat my call to the Prime Minister and Ministers here today to apologise to my constituents—not just for the cuts, but for asking people to pay again for less of a service—and immediately to give back the money that we need to ensure that there is proper neighbourhood policing for our communities.
Order. I am afraid that we have to reduce the time limit to five minutes.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), in whose constituency I seem to remember voters recently switched from Labour to Conservative in a local government by-election, which is interesting. She is right that there are many challenges in policing, but there are also lots of positive things happening across many areas of crime and policing.
It is good news that crimes that are traditionally measured by the independent crime survey for England and Wales are down by over a third since June 2010. Interestingly, there has been a 15% decrease in computer-related consumer and retail fraud. I pick that out because it shows that police reform is working in this and many other areas to deal with modern, fast-changing crimes, making families and communities safer as a result. It is an example of our police forces making a difference online, behind closed doors, and of why the effectiveness of the police can no longer be measured simply by the number of bobbies on the beat.
We have protected police spending in real terms to ensure that the police have the resources they need to keep us all safe. We are also clear that the police must continue to reform and look at ways to improve efficiency. However, it is not just funding and efficiency savings that are important for a well run police service. It is also about ensuring that local communities receive a service that meets their local needs. Whether tackling rural crime in the countryside or antisocial behaviour in our town centres, police forces need to respond to local need. That is why we have put local communities in charge of local policing, so that police can do what is right for their areas. Locally elected police and crime commissioners are responsible for writing local policing plans, setting the budget, setting the priorities, and hiring and firing the chief constable.
The ability of PCCs to increase their band D precept by up to £12 next year without the need to call a referendum gives them the flexibility to increase their funding by up to £270 million. Opposition Members talk about funding, as they do for absolutely everything, but I am fairly certain that the capital gains tax that they want to fund their proposals with is paying for all sorts of other promises that we have already heard, so I have yet to hear a genuine alternative. Nor do they seem to grasp that all funding comes from taxpayers, whether local or national, and they fail to mention, for example, the huge reduction in income tax for those same taxpayers under this Government.
In my constituency of Mansfield there are ongoing problems with antisocial behaviour, theft and violent crime, on which we need further support and emphasis. With that in mind, I welcome the fact that Nottinghamshire police will receive a 2.4% cash increase in its direct resource funding in the next financial year and that it is recruiting 200 new officers and bringing back officers in schools, which is an example of good practice. Perhaps Opposition Members should note that the Nottinghamshire police and crime commissioner has welcomed the police settlement and the positive impact that it will have in Nottinghamshire.
As well as protecting budgets, the Government have been proactively responding to the changing nature of criminal offences. I welcome plans to tackle offensive and dangerous weapons by restricting the online sale of knives and banning the sale of acid to under-18s. When the Home Secretary visited Mansfield, she spoke to my local officers about their challenges in addressing antisocial behaviour, particularly among under-18s, and officers asked her perhaps to go away and look at their powers to deal with those issues. I hope she took that away and tried to come up with some appropriate answers.
Crime is changing all the time, and the way that the police respond to it has to change as well. It is good news that £1.9 billion is being invested in the national cyber-security strategy to help to counter the cyber-threats that the UK faces increasingly regularly. The National Crime Agency’s budget has also been protected, and new capital investment of over £200 million will be provided to transform the agency into a world-leading law enforcement organisation, with new digital and investigative capability to tackle cyber-crime, child exploitation and the distribution of criminal finances, which is so important in the current international climate.
Protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims is of the utmost importance. To support the Government’s commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, we have pledged £100 million of increased funding to 2020. Of course, forces must also respond to the increased terrorism threat. It is not just London that faces this; with the horrific attack in Manchester last year and counter-terrorism operations taking place across the entire country, it is important that all our police forces build on their counter-terrorism work. I recall that even the Idlewells shopping centre in Sutton in Ashfield was recently evacuated because of a suspicious package, so all forces have to be vigilant.
When it comes to counter-terror funding, the police grant report announced that the counter-terrorism policing budget will go up by 7%, increasing from £707 million to at least £757 million in 2018-19. We are funding a 15% increase in the numbers of intelligence officers, so that we can better respond to terror threats. We have made funding available to train an additional 1,900 intelligence officers at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. Policing and the policing budget are not simply about how many police officers we have on the ground at any one time. The counter-terrorism strategy is being updated to ensure that the police and security services also have all the powers they need. On a more local level, the Government passed legislation recently to allow police and crime commissioners to look at the powers they give to people in their communities, including PCSOs, and to try to make them more effective locally.
I had much more to say, but I will finish by saying that, as a son of a police officer and coming from a family of police officers, I am incredibly proud of the work that the police do and I fully support the action that the Government are taking.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley)—not least because I was born in his constituency, although I am a Magpies fan rather than a Stags fan.
It is worth the whole House reflecting on the bravery of our police officers. We saw that bravery a year ago when PC Keith Palmer gave his life protecting this Palace and the people who were around it. Also in our thoughts is Nick Bailey, an officer who went to the help of the Russian people who were poisoned. I am sure that other Members attend local police award ceremonies, and hear about the bravery of policemen and women on a daily basis. Those officers have our support, our thoughts and our thanks.
The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service talked about the need for a quality debate, and I think that that is important. For instance, I think it important for us to look at the crime figures in detail, which I tried to do in my intervention on the Minister. I welcomed his admission that there are serious crimes—which are better recorded in police recorded crime data and the crime survey—that are going up. In London, we are seeing gun crime go up, knife crime go up, violent crime go up. In my constituency, we are seeing burglaries go up, and in a pretty nasty way. One or two Asian families in Tolworth have been victims of aggravated burglary: people have gone into their homes with weapons and threatened them in order to take gold from them as they sat in their own front rooms. It is quite shocking. It is necessary to focus on crime of that sort, because it is the crime that is going up.
When we talk about the need to invest in the police, we should bear in mind that it is not just about reducing crime, vital though that is, but also about solving crime. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) was right to point out that there are 2.1 million unsolved crimes in Britain today, and the inspectorate says that we are short of 5,000 detectives. When there are so many unsolved crimes and so few detectives to solve them, that sends a very bad signal to the criminals. We can reduce crime if people realise that they will be caught. If the deterrent effect is reduced because criminals do not think they will be caught because of the lack of detectives and the number of unsolved crimes, that sows the seeds for rising crime in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman has made an important point about detective numbers. Just to help him and make sure he understands, let me explain that the shortage of detectives is based on an establishment. It is not that 5,000 have been taken out of the system. There is a problem recruiting people to choose to be detectives as opposed to being in uniform, which is their current preference.
I thank the Minister for that clarification, but my point remains the same, and I am speaking on behalf of the inspectorate rather than from a party perspective. I hope that he will take on board what I have said.
We also need to think about the part played by the police not just in reducing and solving crime, but in preventing it. The police, and community police, have so many other roles, such as building community relations and filling in the gaps for other services that are not there. It is those functions, which cannot actually be measured, that communities so value. They are now being taken away, and people feel that quite deeply in their communities. If we are to have the serious debate that the police Minister wanted, I hope he will reflect on the other issues that are not always reflected in the figures, but are vital to our recognition of the extent to which the public value the police in the many roles that they undertake.
The crime figures show that the victims of crime are disproportionately the less well off, and disproportionately the more vulnerable. The case for investing in the police is not just about tackling the criminals; it is about social justice. There are issues that go beyond reducing crime, such as looking after the most vulnerable and the least well off in society. I hope that the Minister will take that on board as well.
Let me now say something about resources. I was pleased to hear the police Minister confirm that the number of police officers had fallen significantly. Since May 2015, my constituency has lost more than 50 officers—10% of the local police force— and people have felt the impact of that. Since returning to the House from my unintended leave of absence, and returning to work in my constituency, I have been quite surprised by the inability of the police to respond as quickly as they used to.
We have seen that in the figures on 999 and 101 calls: in London and in many other areas around England, forces are just not able to respond quickly enough, including to very serious calls. That should trouble the Minister. We also see it in severe antisocial behaviour in communities that is just being ignored. As a local Member of Parliament, I have had to get involved with housing associations, the council and the police to make them take notice of serious behaviour that is completely undermining the quality of life of many of my constituents. These are critical issues.
I intervened on the Policing Minister at the beginning of the debate to ask whether he agreed that Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, had said on the record that the Prime Minister was misleading the public in talking about the £450 million increase. I am afraid that the Minister claimed he would deal with the issue in his later remarks, but he did not. We are talking about an important clarification from an independent statistics body about claims made not only by the Prime Minister but in tweets from the Home Office. If we are to have the serious debate that the Minister said he wanted, I hope there will be no more such false claims.
It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), who touched on important points. I certainly echo her comment about people seeking comfort in the arms of companies that purport to provide some kind of policing service. That is clearly unacceptable and wrong. If people are feeling the need to do that, that is probably a concern to all of us in the House.
Policing in Cleveland has been a source of lasting controversy throughout my life. That is not a reflection on the rank and file officers; it reflects the corrosive breach of trust between too many senior figures in authority and the public whom they serve. At a time when our force undoubtedly faces real financial pressures—I take on board everything that the hon. Lady said—it sticks in my throat and those of many of my constituents that there have been such enormous pay-offs for officers who have left the force having been grievously wronged.
A short list would include the payment of £457,000 in November 2016 to Nadeem Saddique, a firearms officer subject to racist abuse, and the £185,000 paid in January 2017 to settle cases for four officers, again related to racial discrimination.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is referring to historical cases within Cleveland police? Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has rated the force as good for the past two years.
Like everyone, I welcome signs of improvement in the force. I pay tribute to the work of outgoing Chief Constable Iain Spittal and I wish our new Chief Constable Mike Veale every success. However, the truth is that the consequences of these historical allegations continue to damage the force’s finances: the most recent pay-out was half a million to Mark Dias, again for bullying and discrimination. More than that, they damage public trust in the force. That ongoing legacy continues to damage the situation in Cleveland today.
In an earlier intervention, I promised that I would come back to the hon. Member for Redcar about the balance of how policing is deployed across Cleveland. There is an issue about how the force allocates resources across our area. The only manned police station in East Cleveland in my constituency is in Guisborough; it is manned by a slender force of a couple of officers and a few police community support officers.
There is real angst in those communities about the fact that the 1,300 officers of Cleveland police are so under-deployed in rural East Cleveland. I am the first to accept that the problems of crime can be less apparent in rural communities, but the truth is that there is a problem of under-reporting of crime in those communities. If there is one message that I want to get out this evening, it is that if my constituents see crime, they should report it to the authorities. I hear from too many people that they simply do not have faith that Cleveland police will follow it up. That is a real concern.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he is content that Cleveland police has sufficient resources, and that this is just about deployment, despite the fact that we have lost more than 500 officers and £40 million?
I fully accept that there are real pressures on the police, but I also believe that the current deployment pattern could be improved upon. That would be a fair reflection of my position.
It is a mark of the concern that exists in East Cleveland that I attended a rally at the Railway Arms pub in Brotton just before Christmas. It was organised by the publican, Graham Cutler, who is a dedicated public servant, and by Barry Hunt, the local Independent councillor. Those are not people would regard themselves as natural figures to be calling out the police about the service they provide; they are law-abiding individuals who are on the side of the police and who want to see more officers in East Cleveland. My answer to them would be that I am going to raise the matter with our new chief constable, Mike Veale, to see what can be done, and perhaps look at trying to reopen the police station at Loftus, because as my colleagues will know, it is an awfully long way from Loftus to anywhere else in the patch. I hope we can find a way forward that will reflect the fact that, while these are difficult years for the police, there are real challenges for them in my more rural part of Cleveland.
I held a rural forum—the inaugural meeting of my rural club—at the Hunley Hall hotel in Brotton a few weeks ago. It was attended by a group of people who run rural businesses as well as by farmers. It was interesting to hear about the sorts of problems that they are facing. At a lower level, they include endemic theft, problems with cannabis farms hidden in their fields, and offences such as hare coursing, but there are also more serious threats. The farmers were saying that when they challenged people who were creating a nuisance on their land, they had been threatened with physical violence or with their crops and property being burned. I pay tribute to their resilience, but I think this needs to form part of the conversation we have within Cleveland police about how we allocate resource, because these are serious and sinister threats. I was quite shocked by the calm resolve that my constituents showed in the face of these, but they should not have to live with this.
Just yesterday, I presented my ten-minute rule Bill on the problem of drug needles, and I described some experiences in Loftus. I am calling for a change in the law so that we can criminalise those who recklessly or intentionally discarded needles in public places. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Redcar for sponsoring the Bill. This, too, is a matter that I would like to take up with Ministers in due course, because I believe that there is a gap in the law there.
As all of this comes together, my message is that Cleveland is a complex area to police. It is deprived and quite sparsely populated in parts, and, as I have said, historically it has a broken culture that we all want to fix. I believe that there are lessons we can learn to make the best of this challenging situation. I am not going to stand here today and say that all is well in the world of policing in Cleveland, because it is clearly not, but I believe that there are answers that will allow us to offer some comfort to my constituents that we are striking a better balance and achieving a healthier outcome for the communities that we serve.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this important debate. West Yorkshire police is the fourth largest force in the country and, as I have outlined many times before, it is facing new types of crime as well as old types of crime. However, a 35% reduction in funding since 2010 has resulted in almost 2,000 fewer officers and members of staff, which represents a reduction of 20% of the force.
To give the House a sense of the pressures facing the force, on any one day in West Yorkshire there is one police officer on duty for every 2,097 members of the public. On average, the force will make 136 arrests every day, with a staggering 43 of those related to domestic violence. They will attend 38 house burglaries, 44 thefts from vehicles, 16 thefts of vehicles, four serious violent crimes, seven robberies, 57 assaults, 17 sexual offences and 159 incidents of antisocial behaviour, and deal with 141 incidents of domestic abuse in total. Non-recent child sexual exploitation and abuse investigations now account for 33% of all investigations within West Yorkshire police. A third of all the investigative capacity in the force is dealing with non-recent CSE. There were 184 offences relating to modern-day slavery in 2016, compared with just 19 three years ago.
Firearms will be the main focus of my speech today. There has been a particularly disturbing increase in the discharge of firearms in West Yorkshire over the past two years, with firearms predominantly being used by organised criminal gangs as a means of resolving disputes and of intimidating rivals and innocent members of the public alike. Members will not need me to remind them that it was a firearm that facilitated the murder of our friend and colleague Jo Cox by the right-wing extremist Thomas Mair. Sadly, we are no strangers to extremism in West Yorkshire, with several Prevent priority areas presenting a continuously evolving threat for the Police to assess and manage.
For all the great things about West Yorkshire, the prevalence of extreme ideology and violent and organised crime means that our firearms capabilities are incredibly important. As the shadow Minister said in her exceptional opening speech, the Government announcement in April 2016 that they were setting aside £143 million of funding in order to hire an extra 1,000 armed officers by spring 2018 was welcome and would have reversed the effects of the 1,000 armed officers lost between 2010 and 2016. However, only 650 of those officers have been recruited so far.
I want to ask the Minister specifically about the inter-operability of authorised firearms officers and about variations in the duration and the type of training they receive. With the exception of counter-terrorist specialist firearms officers, who train for much longer, I am aware that the length of training of firearms officers to meet armed response vehicle standards varies between 10 and 12 weeks in different forces, but it is accredited by the College of Policing. However, the requirements for other firearms officers, such as Ministry of Defence police or diplomatic protection officers, are different, and they may train for in the region of four weeks to meet different standards.
If the threat level increases to critical and we deploy Operation Temperer, and all AFOs—authorised firearms officers—with significant variations in training and experience are redeployed all over the country, how do we manage their interoperability? Of the around 6,250 authorised firearms officers in the UK, what proportion are trained to ARV standards and what proportion do not meet that standard? In the event of Operation Temperer being deployed, I fear that some firearms officers could find themselves in situations for which they have not trained. As the uplift is proving slower to deliver than expected, would it not make sense to ensure that all AFOs are trained to ARV standards to have confidence in that benchmark and in the interoperability of armed officers?
I would be pleased to answer those specific questions. As for the ARV part of the uplift, we are over and above the original plans, so we are above target and the process is now complete. For the CTSFOs, which is the higher standard—I have been to visit Wakefield, where they do some of their training—the importance of that role is that they have to be so specialised that there is a high failure rate. We must ensure that we maintain standards, but we are on track to fulfil that requirement at the same time.
I am grateful to the Minister. I am looking to uplift that basic standard, so that all our firearms officers meet a threshold and that we have faith in the basic training.
Finally, the Policing Minister will be well aware—other hon. Members may not be—that we are running into a number of challenges and differences of opinion in relation to the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill or “Protect the Protectors” Bill, which will be back for its Report and Third Reading on 27 April. From my experiences of shadowing the front line and of the brilliant police parliamentary scheme, which I would recommend to all colleagues, I have felt the increased vulnerability that comes when officers are regularly single-crewed; there are simply fewer of them and risks come with that. Over the course of the campaign and the Bill’s journey through Parliament, it has enjoyed cross-party support, as we all share a sense of outrage at seeing emergency service workers spat at, attacked or assaulted.
I have shared horror stories in this Chamber on several occasions about emergency service workers having been spat at and about the anxiety of having to wait for test results, take antiviral treatments as a precaution and, on occasion, adhere to restrictions about interacting with close family and friends based on advice given by medical professionals. The Bill’s purpose is to alleviate those fears for 999 and NHS workers, wherever and however we can, and both my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has done sterling work leading on the Bill, and I are open to any and all means of getting there. I therefore ask the Policing Minister to continue to engage with us and other MPs to keep that dialogue going between now and 27 April, as we seek to do right by those dedicated emergency service workers, who have high expectations of this Bill, in order to protect them from the vile act of being spat at and the anxiety that follows.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), and I mean that most genuinely. I was in the Chamber when she made her speech on the “Protect the Protectors” Bill, and I thought it was incredibly moving and personal. I completely endorse what she just said and would like to offer her any support that I can.
Many years ago I was a member of the West Midlands police authority. I thought we did a good job of holding the police to account, and I was delighted to sit on the committee that appointed Dave Thompson as deputy chief constable. He proved to be a good appointment, because he is now chief constable.
I fully accept that in 2010 both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative manifestos suggested that we needed an alternative form of governance that would allow people to hold an elected official to account for police performance. The following legislation gave us the police and crime commissioners, and perhaps the rest is history. I fully appreciate that, in her opening remarks, the shadow Minister said that police and crime commissioners can only play the hand they have been dealt, but they must surely be accountable for their role.
Unfortunately, my relationship with the Labour police and crime commissioner in the west midlands could best be described as strained. On 23 March 2018, he was directly quoted by the Express & Star as saying
“Eddie has been voting for cuts to our force’s budget in parliament”.
That is misleading. Since being elected nine months ago, I have never voted for a cut in police funding. The independent House of Commons Library confirms that my vote in favour of the police funding grant means that total direct resources funding for England and Wales will increase to just over £11.4 billion in 2018-19, up from £11 billion in 2016-17, a cash rise of 2.5%—so no cut there.
Explaining the breakdown of the cash rise, the head of the UK Statistics Authority wrote to the shadow Minister for Policing:
“As the Minister for Policing’s statement outlined, up to £270 million of the funding settlement will come from local council tax”.
As I pointed out earlier, all Government spending comes from tax of one form or another. The letter continued:
“In addition, the Leader of the House of Commons stated that the £270 million that can be raised locally was on top of the…£450 million.”
That is the £450 million the Minister has already announced—so no cut there, either.
However, I am on record as stating at public meetings in my constituency that police funding should increase. Indeed, the police and crime commissioner would have heard me say that in Willenhall on 8 December 2017 if he had bothered to attend the public meeting arranged by the Labour leader of Walsall Council, who also happens to chair the West Midlands police and crime panel. Snow apparently prevented the police and crime commissioner from making the 18-mile journey from his very expensively refurbished office in the centre of Birmingham. Others travelled considerably greater distances to attend the meeting.
Further, in his press release in 2017, the police and crime commissioner asked for an increase of £5 per household on the precept. I voted for an increase of £12 per household, but he still says he does not have enough money. I will continue to fight for more police funding for my constituents and for our hard-working police in Willenhall and Bloxwich, but the good people of my constituency deserve better service from their police and crime commissioner.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in today’s debate.
It is clear that the UK Statistics Authority, along with police forces across Wales and England and indeed many members of the public, just does not buy the Government’s rhetoric that they are providing an extra £450 million in the forthcoming financial year. That is clearly not the case.
After significant campaigning by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), the independent watchdog has now identified that, far from providing extra money, the annual police grant is actually a “flat cash settlement” for police forces across the country, and actually amounts to a cut in direct Whitehall grants to local policing. As a result of my hon. Friend’s work, we now know that Home Office funding for local forces will be cut in real terms.
It seems that the Government’s figures are based on an assumption that an extra £270 million will be raised from local taxes—that money comes from local council tax payers and not from the Government. The Government also included £130 million earmarked for national police priorities that will never be available to local policing.
For my local force, South Wales police, an increase in the precept has been essential to help maintain the service, to allow for the protection of vulnerable people and to continue investment in the future of policing in south Wales. Even with the increase in the 2018-19 precept, South Wales police will still have to cut spending by £3.5 million in the coming year, while tackling significant growth in demand and preventing crime through early intervention and prompt, positive action.
There is added frustration in South Wales because despite repeated calls for a review, the Home Office still does not recognise the extra cost of policing Cardiff, the capital city, so South Wales police is further short-changed, whereas additional money is provided to forces policing London and Edinburgh. Although I represent the Merthyr Tydfil part of the South Wales police area, the pressures of policing the capital city clearly put pressure on resources for my constituency. For example, it cost £5.7 million to police the Champions League final in Cardiff in June last year. On that occasion, one-off grants were made available from the Home Office, the Welsh Government and the Football Association of Wales. However, South Wales police deployed 1,556 officers and spent £2.1 million of its budget.
The Rhymney side of my constituency is policed under Gwent police. Gwent’s police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, has joined other PCCs and Sir David Norgrove, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, in calling for clarity over the UK Government’s claims. Gwent Police has already seen its budget cut by 40% in real terms since the start of the UK Government’s austerity agenda, leaving the PCC with little choice other than to turn to council tax payers.
All of this is taking place against the backdrop of 21,000 officers lost since austerity began in 2010; more than 18,000 police staff and more than 6,800 police community support officers have been axed, despite a promise to protect the frontline. On a positive note, one of the few areas where PCSOs have been supported is in Wales, where 500 are directly supported by the Welsh Labour Government, helping to ensure visibility of the policing family and mitigate against Tory cuts. We know that this is also taking place against the backdrop of figures showing that crime has risen nationwide by 14%, the highest annual rise since 1992. Violent crime has risen by 20% and robbery has risen by 29%. In many communities I represent, antisocial behaviour is having a detrimental effect on the quality of life. Public meetings have been called by local communities, and I attended one recently in Abertysswg with the local police, who are doing all that they can with limited resources.
As I said at the start, we know that the “£450 million” is a flat cash settlement for police forces in England and Wales, so we now have the situation where local council tax payers are paying for the Tory cuts imposed from Westminster. I urge the Government to be clear and transparent. I will be fully supporting the motion today, and I urge the Minister to consider it and confirm what action the Government will take to address the concerns.
These past 12 months have served to remind all of us of the challenge facing our police and security services; terror has come to Manchester, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green, and even here to Westminster. These are uncertain times, and the first duty of any Government must be to keep our citizens safe. That is why funding, resources, and capability are all so important, and why I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
I must confess, however, that the Labour motion has confused me. Reading it, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Government have completely shunned their responsibility to keep us safe, yet nothing could be further from the truth. For example, in 2017-18, the funding for counter-terrorism stood at £707 million, and earlier this year, the Government announced that that will rise by at least £50 million for 2018-19. That rightly includes a £29 million uplift in armed policing from the police transformation fund. In a year in which we have seen the number of incidents requiring an armed response on the increase, I very much welcome the fact that the Government have taken the decision to bolster our capacity to respond.
I have listed some of the atrocious attacks that we have seen in the UK in the past year. Of course, we must also remember that for every attack that succeeds, countless others have been stopped, with lives saved, often without the public even realising. For that, we owe a debt of gratitude to our security and intelligence agencies. As we would expect, a lot of the data on intelligence budgets is classified. However, we know that the single intelligence account, which funds the security and intelligence services, will increase by 18% in real terms by 2021. The Intelligence and Security Committee has noted that there is a clear, upward trend in funding. The Government take seriously their responsibilities to protect us from harm, and match their rhetoric with resources.
I have largely stayed away from discussing funding for police forces, because funding for policing in Scotland is a devolved issue and is provided by the Scottish Government. Of course, Police Scotland will find itself with around £35 million extra every year thanks to the actions of Scottish Conservative MPs and the UK Conservative Government, who exempted the force from VAT last November. We had a rather theatrical episode earlier, in which Scottish National party and Scottish Labour Members tried to take credit for that, but it was Scottish Conservative MPs, working with a Conservative UK Chancellor, who secured the extra funding. That was despite howls of protest from SNP Members, who seemed more interested in justifying their decision to make Police Scotland liable in the first place than in working constructively towards a solution.
The additional money will be much needed. Police Scotland has gone from crisis to crisis, and it will take a concerted effort to restore public trust in the force. SNP incompetence has pushed policing in Scotland to the brink. Two chief constables have resigned and several other senior figures have been suspended for a variety of reasons. The SNP’s botched British Transport police merger has finally been paused, but I dread to think what the cost has been to the taxpayer.
A recent Audit Scotland report highlighted the failure of the SNP Scottish Government to prepare for welfare powers. All the recommendations could be applied to the SNP’s failure to prepare for the merger of BTP into Police Scotland. The report spoke about failures to estimate the full costs and properly resource workforce planning, and a general underestimation of the complexity of the project. I see a similarity between the SNP’s failure to prepare for welfare powers and its failure to prepare for British Transport police to be merged into Police Scotland. If Labour Members want to see a police force in crisis, I suggest that they look north of the border and see the mess that the SNP has made of policing in Scotland
Policing, counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering are too important to get wrong. The Leader of the Opposition has questioned the use of deadly force against terrorists and the SNP has proven itself utterly unfit to lead; only the Conservatives and only this Government have proved themselves capable of delivering the services and the protection that the country needs.
As the Policing Minister rightly highlighted in his opening speech, last week we were reminded of the bravery, professionalism and selflessness of policemen and women, when the House paid tribute to the late PC Palmer. I never tire of expressing my pride at being the husband of a policewoman serving in Scotland, and we will never tire of praising everyone in the emergency services for their courage, effort, professionalism and dedication. Their outstanding work keeps the rest of us safe, and I thank them all.
I am pleased to speak in this debate. I congratulate the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), on her excellent contribution.
There is no doubt that this is one of the most important matters facing my constituents, and one that is raised time and again. In fact, the very first issue that I raised in the House after my election in June last year was the effect of police cuts across Merseyside and the urgent need to tackle the rising tide of gun crime following a dramatic increase in shootings across Walton and around Merseyside. All that, against the backdrop of savage cuts to police funding, with £100 million slashed from Merseyside police budgets and the loss of more than 1,000 police officers and more than 200 police community support officers since 2010.
On that day, I saw a Government refusing to face up to the consequences of their cuts. Standing here now, nine months down the line, it feels a bit like groundhog day. Just last week, there was another shooting in Everton in my constituency, leaving a 40-year-old man in a critical condition. Since last year, the stark reality of police cuts has further unravelled, with shocking figures showing the biggest increase in recorded crime for a decade. In Merseyside, crime is up 14% on the previous year; there has been a 16% rise in violent crime; possession of a weapon is up 22%; robbery is up 29%; and burglary is up by a third. Those figures are borne out by the stories, often tragic, that we see and hear about on an almost daily basis.
During my time in the House, I have heard, time and again, a Prime Minister who refuses to take responsibility. The first responsibility of any Government should be to keep our people safe, but this Government seem to have little regard for the people of Liverpool.
Last week, the Prime Minister was called out by the UK Statistics Authority, which ruled that the public had been misled by the claim of £450 million in extra funding for local forces. What was dressed up as “extra funding” was, in fact, shifting the burden onto local residents through increases in council tax. As always, poorer areas will be left struggling, with far less ability to raise money locally than the better-off areas where crime is often lower. How can that be fair?
In reality, real-terms funding will be cut for the eighth consecutive year, but, more than anything, people would simply like to see the Prime Minister take seriously the impact of police cuts and rising crime on our communities and to take responsibility, because the denials that we have heard from Conservative Members have, quite frankly, been shameful. The Government have consistently denied not only the figures, but the testimony of frontline police officers and chiefs. Merseyside Chief Constable Andy Cooke has warned that cuts have left the force stretched to the limits, and we still have to find a further £18 million more in cuts by 2020.
A recent bid was made to the Home Office for additional funding to be made available to address the specific rise in gun crime—and that was not the first time. Ministers might admit that they raised hopes only to dash them. Andy Cooke has described it thus:
“The police alone cannot tackle gun crime. The causes are deep rooted in society and in order to reduce it requires all relevant agencies to work together and I am fully aware that all those agencies have been subject to draconian budget cuts also.”
I want to pay tribute to Andy and all of his team and to our police officers on the frontline in Merseyside. It saddens me that this Government are content to ignore their calls for help. In fact, this Government treat our frontline workers with contempt. Perhaps we should consider the possibility that frontline staff know their profession better than a party that has, I am afraid, shown disregard for the reality of working people’s lives since it took office.
As well as police cuts, other cuts to public services are clearly contributing to rising crime. Early intervention, outreach programmes, youth centres and the probation service have all fallen victim to the swinging axe of austerity. Labour has promised to begin to reverse years of Tory neglect by putting 10,000 more police officers back on the beat, but we are much more ambitious than that. As in health, so too in crime, prevention is better than cure. A Labour Government will invest in our communities, rebuilding the social fabric that has ruthlessly been stripped away by austerity. By dealing with inequality and its social consequences, we can tackle the causes of crime at the root, keep our communities safe, and build a more cohesive society based on mutual trust and respect.
I am sorry, but in order to accommodate all remaining would-be contributors, the time limit on Back-Bench speeches has now, with immediate effect, to be reduced to four minutes.
I pay tribute to the many people who work in counter-terrorism, whose efforts make the United Kingdom a relatively safe place in which to live. The enormity of what they do for us can often go overlooked, because their success is measured by what does not happen rather than by what does. Without their hard work, so many days that have passed relatively peacefully and uneventfully would have turned out very differently for each of us. Therefore, for their tireless efforts against the terrorist threat, they deserve the thanks of the whole House and, indeed, the whole country.
I am glad to support a UK Government who take the terrorist threat to our country seriously, and who fund counter-terrorism efforts accordingly. I pay particular tribute to the decision in January to increase the counter-terrorism policing budget by £50 million to £757 million. Compare this £757 million that the Conservatives are putting towards counter-terror policing now with the £552 million that Labour put towards it in its last year in office—even at a time when it was content to run a deficit of £154 billion—and it is not hard to tell which party is truly committed to properly funding counter-terrorism. However, counter-terrorism is not just a matter for the police. Our intelligence services—MI5, MI6 and GCHQ—play a vital role in countering terrorism and in helping build a safer Britain and a safer world. The single intelligence account, which funds those crucial services, has also seen its budget increase. All in all, the UK Government are working hard to meet their commitment to increase counter-terrorism spending by 30% over the five years to 2020, reaching an ultimate total of £5.1 billion. This is how we address the threats to this country at a time when the nature of terrorism is changing dramatically.
Funding is important, but an effective counter-terror strategy needs more than funding. It needs an approach that recognises and reflects the fact that terrorists who threaten us now operate on a different basis from those who did so 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Thanks in part to the rise of the internet, terrorist groups increasingly work on a looser, more globalised basis, and an increasing proportion of the threat comes from so-called lone wolves.
It is right that our counter-terrorism efforts are changing as the nature of the threat changes, and we must always be sure to remain one step ahead of the terrorists. In many ways, terrorists have had to change the way in which they operate precisely because the hard work of our police, intelligence services and others has succeeded in making it impossible for them to operate as they used to. We must keep up the pressure and keep stamping out new threats as they emerge.
Yes, we must fund counter-terrorism policing and the intelligence services properly, and I am pleased that this Conservative Government are doing just that, but counter-terrorism involves more than that. It involves keeping our armed forces well-funded, with defence spending above 2% of GDP; being willing to use our armed forces and to work with our allies to take on international terror; and countering extremism and radicalisation here in Britain, through initiatives such as the vital Prevent strategy, for which Labour and SNP support was lukewarm at best. But when we compare this Government’s record against that of Corbyn, Labour and the SNP, there is only one conclusion: only the Conservatives can be trusted to work on all levels to support our counter-terrorism efforts and keep this country safe.
During the election campaign I met a 20-year-old young man called Kelva Smith. He was in a front garden with a group of friends, and they had a chat with me as I was canvassing. We talked about crime, the lack of youth services, funding cuts and all the issues that young people are facing. If I am honest, Kelva and his friends were pretty pessimistic about my ability to do anything about any of these problems. On 5 March this year, Kelva was stabbed to death on the streets of Croydon. It turns out that Kelva and his friends were right to be pessimistic. I did not manage to change the situation for young people in Croydon. And now Kelva is dead and it is too late for him. I do not want us to fail another person, which is why I set up the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, why I am campaigning—along with so many colleagues across the political divide—for action on serious youth violence, and why I am working with every organisation I possibly can.
Our police are under pressure like never before in the face of knife crime and youth violence. In London, 80 people were stabbed to death last year. We saw eight deaths in a week of knife crime and gun crime just a couple of weeks ago, and the majority of cases are young people. Twenty-six people have been shot or stabbed to death in our capital so far this year—roughly one person every three days. This problem is not unique to London by any stretch. Knife crime across England and Wales grew by 21% last year, and almost all police forces are seeing an increase. There were 37,000 knife offences last year. Many MPs have joined the all-party parliamentary group, and are coming up to me quite regularly having realised that knife crime is a problem in their area. Knife-carrying in schools has rocketed, increasing by 42% over two years. The age of those carrying knives is also getting younger—some are 10, 11, 12 and 13 years old.
I sit on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is doing an inquiry into the changing nature of policing. I understand the pressures that the police are under and the changing nature of crime. I also understand the need for efficiencies. It is quite insulting, I would suggest, to say that Labour Members do not believe in efficiencies. Of course we do—nobody wants to waste taxpayers’ money—but there is only so much one can do with efficiencies in the situation where the Met police have already made £600 million of savings and have to make another £400 million, where all but one of the police stations in Croydon has been closed, where our borough commander now has to lead three boroughs rather than one, and where eight out of 10 of our neighbourhood police officers have now gone.
Last week, I was in a secondary school where I talked to school-based police officers who were doing extraordinary work in helping people with issues of domestic violence and helping with children who went missing. Those police officers had built relationships with young people that meant that those young people trusted them. However, school-based police officers have been cut by 20% since 2010, and 13 police forces have no officers in schools at all.
I want to end with a basic plea: we need more funding so that we can have more police. It is a very simple situation. We are not trying to spin the facts. We need more police. It is too late for Kelva but it is not too late for other people.
It is an honour to follow in the footsteps of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), because I will be speaking about knife crime as well.
Many Members of this House will have seen the young people in Washington speak last week very movingly and eloquently about losing their friends in shootings. Many of us saw the tens of thousands of young people marching on Capitol Hill in Washington. For me, as I listened to the youngsters speak and watched them marching, it felt dangerously close to home, because just two days before what happened in Washington, I went to a march in my own area—the Camden march against violence. This was co-organised by my constituent Elaine Donnellon, who had decided that people had to do something to protest, and also to find out the causes of the knife crime in Camden over the past few years. The victims are young men and boys who constantly get knifed and die, mostly members of the black community.
The testimony of the mother I spoke to who had lost her sons was unbelievable. The words of comfort that I gave to her felt inadequate when she had lost son after son through knife crime in Camden. The recent knife violence in London, which my hon. Friend articulated so well, has pushed many of our communities into despair. Those are the people I want to speak up on behalf of today. I want to speak for the elderly who now carry personal alarms because they are so scared to go out into the street. I want to speak for the parents who say goodbye to their children when they go off to school and are not sure if they are going to return home after school ends. Most of all, I want my speech to be a rallying cry for the young people who died after suffering from knife crime and cannot speak for themselves.
There are some damning statistics that I want to share with the House. Since January, London has seen double the number of fatal stabbings compared with the same period last year. Since 14 March alone, five people have been stabbed to death in our city. Many more are still fighting for their lives in hospital. Half the victims are aged 23 or younger. Any of the families who were on the march and who have suffered loss and those who have lost friends will say the same thing over and again—that knife violence does not exist in a vacuum. The banner at the front of the silent march that I attended had one message: “Stop the Violence. Invest in our Youth.”
The huge cuts to the Government’s preventive services have put even more pressure on the police and our communities. Overall, there has been a 44% youth service budget cut, which means that across 25 councils with like-for-like data, 81 youth centres and major council-supported youth projects have been cut. The situation we are facing is being exacerbated further and further by cuts to youth services. I am sorry if this is uncomfortable for some, but frankly, having attended that march led, as I say, by a mother who suffered three—yes, three—sons dying in the space of six months, I am in no mood to temper my words.
There are now fewer officers on our streets than in 2010. For the first time in a decade, the number of crimes recorded annually has passed the 5 million mark, rising by 13%. I do not have time to go through all the statistics. However, the cutting of police numbers and the lack of investment in services that offer a safety net to all the young men in my constituency is an obvious part of this very real problem, and to say otherwise is to allow policymakers simply to wash their hands of it.
It is an honour to speak in this vital debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq).
Police forces across the country have borne the brunt of this Government’s austerity cuts over the past eight years, and my constituency is no stranger to the shrinking blue line. Since 2010, Greater Manchester has seen 2,000 fewer police officers on the streets. The Government do not need to hear that from me; they can just look at our local crime statistics or listen to the people whose lives have been affected by the ever increasing cuts to our police force.
Despite promises of protection for our police budgets, the police grant has been reduced by £8 million. When I confronted the Home Secretary with those uncomfortable truths a few weeks ago, she insisted that the real problem was the amount of reserves that our Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, was sitting on. I would like to take this opportunity to confront that point head on.
The level of general reserves in Greater Manchester stands well within the advised range, with the rest earmarked for important projects to reduce demand on police services, such as mental health triage, crime prevention and victim support. There is no magic money pot that our Mayor is sitting on. Instead, we are seeing the same story here as we did in the local government debate earlier, of blaming the police service for the Government’s failure to resource vital public services that our communities rely on.
Reserves have also been used effectively to roll out innovative ways of working, and one such approach has been rolled out in my area. Greater Manchester police has launched a place-based working scheme that has proved to have enormous potential. However, the scale of the cutbacks on police community support officers and neighbourhood beat officers is so crippling that the scheme is struggling to remain operational. In places with high levels of antisocial behaviour, drug and alcohol use and other social problems, associated issues have been successfully reduced, but time and again I hear stories of officers who are designated to that scheme then moved to fill operational gaps across the police force. If our police forces were given investment in those schemes in the form of neighbourhood policing, we may not only see long-term crime reduction but would increase confidence in our police forces and communities while reducing the strain on other public services.
After years of crippling cuts, our police forces are crying out for the funding that they need to keep our communities safe. Labour’s message is clear: we cannot protect our communities on the cheap. Now is the time to invest in our local forces, end the pay cap and give our brave police officers the pay rise they deserve.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Jo Platt), and I would like to congratulate our shadow team on securing this important debate.
It is very clear that we cannot keep the public safe on the cheap. The announcement of extra funding to combat crime and terror in December actually amounts to a real-terms cut in central funding for police forces of £324 million this year. The Government have ignored the police by offering far less than they need and insulted the public by expecting them to pay for it. The legacy of the Government’s cuts means that there are now fewer officers per head than at any time on record, as crime, including violent crime, rockets.
Between April 2016 and September 2017, Bedfordshire experienced a 12.2% increase in crime, a 24% increase in the number of calls requiring an immediate response and a 48.9% increase in burglary, compared with the same period in the previous year. The police have had to try to deal with that on a reduced budget, with a reduced workforce.
Bedfordshire police force is one of the smallest in Britain, but it covers Luton airport as well as the town, which carries an unusually high level of serious threats that are not normally dealt with by a force of that size. Some 40% of the force’s activity takes place in Luton. While there is insufficient police capacity to deal with the challenges in that town, it means that the rest of Bedfordshire has less than its proportionate share of police cover, for which its residents also pay.
Constituents in Bedford will not forget the words of Bedfordshire police chief constable Jon Boutcher, who said six months ago that the police did not have the resources to keep residents safe and that officers could not cope with the demand. In an interview published in The Daily Telegraph, he said:
“My officers cannot cope with the demand and no-one seems to be listening... Things cannot go on as they are. My officers are exhausted.”
He also said that he does not have the numbers to attend 999 calls, and it cannot get worse than that.
In an Adjournment debate on police funding in Bedfordshire led by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) in November, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service said that public safety is the Government’s No. 1 priority, and that his Government of course have a responsibility to make sure the police have the resources they need. May I remind the Minister that Bedfordshire has the third highest terror risk in the country? Yet the extra funding for counter-terrorism is nowhere near what police commissioners have asked for, and it is not effective without enough officers on the frontline to provide intelligence. The counter-terrorism police are under such a strain that some terror cases are not being investigated, and the number of serious crimes left unsolved or not investigated at all is at a record high. We are living in different times with different threats. The spate of terror attacks in the UK and Europe is a shift, not a spike, in the threat level, and it could take a generation to eliminate that. This new normality needs a robust response, and police forces need the resources and the funding to do their jobs properly.
My constituency of High Peak is in Derbyshire, where our police support grant has been cut by over 26% in real terms since 2010. For that reason, we have 411 fewer police officers, down from 2,066, which is a cut of over a fifth. The reserves have halved, and there is a flat-rate settlement for Derbyshire this year. Out of that flat-rate settlement, our police force needs to fund the police pay rise—and don’t our police officers deserve a pay rise! The pay rise is only 2%, which is below the rate of inflation, but it still needs to be found out of a flat-cash settlement, which will cut into other resources and cut even further into the reserves.
In my area, our police now cover an area of 25 miles by 25 miles from just two police stations. They are stretched as thin as they could possibly be stretched. I recently spent a 12-hour shift on a Friday night with our local police force to see their reaction to and how they cope with the pressures on them. They are incredibly resilient officers, and I pay tribute to every one of them. They are out driving huge distances, and they often have to respond to domestic violence and antisocial behaviour on their own.
The police no longer have enough officers to double up. They try their very best to do so, but I was told that, when responding to youngsters who are threatening them, they have to claim that they have back-up on the way and just around the corner, while knowing that that is not the case and that their colleagues are often much further away, which makes them all worried for their own safety. None of our police officers should have to put themselves on the line in that way. That is why the cuts to our police service are wrong, and why Labour Members are fighting for our police.
The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham), who is no longer in her place, talked about the police and crime commissioner for Derbyshire and claimed that he did not have a plan for local policing, but I actually have a copy of it here. Our police and crime commissioners do the best job they can with what they have. They are dealing with a huge increase in cyber-crime, terrorism, human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, which are all hugely costly in police time.
Our residents are suffering as well. The hon. Lady criticised our police and crime commissioner for going to visit villages where there is concern about crime, and giving them information about crime prevention and how to keep themselves safe. Surely going to see people in exposed rural areas is what our police and crime commissioners should be doing up and down the country. They absolutely need the support of the police and their police and crime commissioner, who should make sure that they use our policing resources as best they can.
I recently spent three hours on a Saturday afternoon with local police community support officers at a drop-in for local people to make sure that there was enough crime prevention advice and that local people felt safe. Even in beautiful rural areas such as mine in the Peak district, people are starting to feel that they cannot go outside their homes because they are scared. That is what this Government have done through their cuts to our police forces, and that is what we need to prevent.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate to highlight the urgent financial pressures facing our police forces. As the motion says,
“central government funding to local police forces will fall in real terms for the eighth consecutive year in 2018-19”;
there will be a
“shortfall in funding for counter-terrorism policing”;
and police numbers are at their lowest for decades, damaging community safety.
I too pay tribute to my local police force, Gwent police. I know what an incredibly hard job they do on the frontline, and that they are doing all they can to adapt and rise to the new challenges under incredible financial strain. I was incredibly pleased to see a recent report by the inspector of constabulary and fire and rescue services that showed that Gwent has the highest estimated spending on neighbourhood policing of all 43 forces.
As other Members have said, the Government have to be clear with the public on the police budget. That point has been echoed by the Gwent PCC, Jeff Cuthbert. The Prime Minister told the House that she was
“not just protecting police budgets, but increasing them with an extra £450 million.”—[Official Report, 7 February 2018; Vol. 635, c. 1485.]
I hear today that the figure is £460 million. However, she left out the fact that, due to cuts, the additional money comes from raising taxes on local residents. That is what police and crime commissioners have been forced to do. In reality, the decision to continue the cash freeze on the funding for police forces amounts to a real-terms cut of at least £100 million.
Locally, Gwent has seen its budget cut by 40% in real terms since 2010. That has meant the loss of about 350 frontline officers and 200 members of staff. The force is recruiting again. Indeed, I was pleased to join my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) at a passing out parade just a few weeks ago. However, that has been possible only thanks to the force’s effective financial management, efficiency savings and annual increases in the local precept to maintain a flat-line budget. That budget will enable Gwent to maintain and protect its number of offices, but not to increase it substantially.
Policing is obviously not devolved, but the Welsh Government have stepped up to the mark and funded 101 PCSOs for Gwent. Without that, we would have about 30. That is welcome obviously and yet another reason to be glad to have a Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff. However, we should not hide from the wider funding problem, which is clearly in the Government’s hands.
This is a debate about money and resources, but what matters to my constituents is the human cost. The statistics show clearly that crime is increasing at the same time as central Government funding is shrinking. As our PCC said, the inevitable conclusion is that policing is under-resourced to deal with an escalating problem. We must bear in mind that cuts to other services have an impact on the police, who are often the backstop service. There are fewer resources to deal not only with proactive crime prevention, but with new types of complex crime such as cyber-crime and the demands of counter-terrorism. That makes the Government’s refusal to invest in our police forces indefensible. I hope that the Government reflect on this debate and urgently review their strategy on police funding.
I thank and pay tribute to the police force in my constituency of Peterborough, because it is doing a fantastic job with limited resources. I have explained to the superintendent that the implementation of the cuts is much like tying their hands behind their back and asking them to catch. Of the forces in England, Cambridgeshire constabulary ranks sixth from bottom, at 33rd out of 39, for the amount of funding per person it receives. The forces in most need get the least and local residents pay the price for the cuts.
In my Peterborough constituency, 16,727 crimes were recorded in the last 12 months. That figure is up by 17%. Surely the Government can see that the cuts are hurting and not working. Less is not more. We need officers to keep our communities safe, yet in the same period there has been a real-terms reduction of £1.2 million in Home Office funding to my local force. Despite a promise to protect the frontline, since 2010 the Cambridgeshire constabulary has lost over 139 police officers, while 83 community support officers have been axed. The public are sick and tired of cuts: cuts to local children’s services; cuts to local authorities; and cuts to local policing. Cutting rather than protecting those who protect us is not working.
The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council said:
“Relying on local taxpayers while slashing funding from Westminster will mean tough choices about priorities for many local forces.”
The question I would like to put to the Minister as I close is this: what will it take for this Government to realise the futility of knowing the price of everything yet the value of nothing?
I listened with interest to the Minister who introduced the debate and to the speeches from Conservative Members. Members on the Labour Benches were told that we do not understand the complexity of the issues. We were told that we do not care about efficiency. We were told that we are looking backward. Above all, the Minister said we were waving shrouds.
Let me explain to the Minister that I have represented one of the high-crime areas of our great cities for 30 years. None of us wants to make these speeches about the effect of crime in our communities, and yes, Minister, violent crime is going up: knife crime, gun crime, acid attacks, the county lines system of drug distribution. But crime is not just brutal for the victims of crime—it is brutal to whole communities: mothers who see their young sons disappear down a vortex of violence and crime, and wonder, when they go out, if they will return. We are not waving shrouds: we are talking about the reality of life as it is lived by the people we live among and seek to represent.
I want to say a few words about reserves, which Ministers sometimes bring up as the answer to money problems in police funding. They know full well that most of the reserves they refer to are earmarked or allocated reserves. The funds they refer to have overwhelmingly been allocated for specific purposes. These reserves are just not available for day-to-day funding. Just as important, they should not be used for day-to-day funding. Ongoing and recurring costs should not be met from the finite stock of reserves. That is the way to losses, to deficits, to crises—the types of issues, deficits and crises this Government have created elsewhere in the public sector, most damagingly in the NHS. The reserves are needed, and it would not be prudent or even lawful to run them down to zero.
On precepts, I do not want to remind Ministers of their reprimand by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, but it is simply not the case that they can include money from the council tax precept and treat it or talk about it as if it is direct funding from Government. It is not. It is simply not clear to Labour Members why Conservative Members persist in using that line when the Prime Minister has already been reprimanded by the UK Statistics Authority. Let me remind Ministers of the Home Office press release in December 2017. The headline was “Police funding increases by £450 million in 2018”, but the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, questioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), said:
“the Prime Minister’s statement and the Home Office’s tweet could have led the public to conclude incorrectly that central government is providing an additional £450 million for police spending”.
He went on to suggest that the Home Office head of statistics made sure that his colleague statisticians understood the structure of police funding and the importance of making clear public statements. I hope that the Minister will assure me that this has happened.
One criticism that Ministers have made is that we have focused our remarks on resources, but are chief constables themselves not telling us that they need resources? The key example is gun crime in Liverpool. Merseyside police have the experience and the expertise, but they need the resources.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I will come to what chief constables all over the country are saying later in my speech. In his statement on police funding on 31 January, the Minister stated:
“In 2018-19, we will provide each police and crime commissioner (PCC) with the same amount of core Government grant funding as in 2017-18.”—[Official Report, 31 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 25WS.]
He said “the same amount”, but it is a freeze in direct Government funding. When inflation is close to 3%, it amounts to a cut in real terms, because the flat-cash settlement does not cover the unfunded pay rise, pension costs, the apprenticeship levy and rising fuel costs. To say blithely that it is the same amount, as though it is not actually a cut in real terms, is quite disappointing.
I want to say a few words on counter-terrorism and to make the point that Ministers sometimes do not want to talk about—that counter-terrorism and community policing are inextricably linked. As somebody reminded us earlier, it was Sadiq Khan who said:
“For every £1 of counter terrorism funding spent in response to an incident, around £2 is spent on necessary additional non-counter terrorism activity, which has to come from wider policing budgets.”
Community policemen and women are on the frontline of counter-terrorism, so to talk about narrowly defined counter-terrorism funding and not understand that community policing on the ground is the frontline of counter-terrorism is, again, disappointing.
The effects of these cuts on the ground have been set out by my colleagues my hon. Friends the Members for High Peak (Ruth George), for Redcar (Anna Turley) and for Halifax (Holly Lynch), the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), and my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq)—who made a very moving speech—for Leigh (Jo Platt), for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya). They talked from personal experience, but in closing, let me remind Ministers what senior officers have said.
The assistant chief constable from Northumbria, Ged Noble, recently told the police and crime panel that total crime in his area had risen by 109% since 2014 and violent crime was up by over 200%. The Bedfordshire chief constable said:
“We do not have the resources to keep residents safe.”
Does my right hon. Friend not feel it is a sign of the significance that the Government attach to our brave police officers and the victims of crime all over this country that the Home Secretary has not even been present at any point during this important debate?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It will have been observed by the community and by policemen and women that the Home Secretary was not in this debate at any point.
I was talking about what senior officers have said. The Bedfordshire chief constable, Jon Boutcher, said:
“My officers cannot cope with the demand and no-one seems to be listening.”
The Minister quoted Cressida Dick, so let me give him another quote:
“We’ve got emergency calls going up, we’ve got crime going up nationally and in London…Police chiefs will do all they can to protect the public from terrorism. We will make choices about what we prioritise and where we invest. Some of these choices may be difficult and unpalatable to the public”.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council criticised the Government’s funding settlement for
“failing to fully meet the level of investment identified.”
But perhaps the most damning verdict is from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which said in its recent report:
“About a quarter of forces are all too often overwhelmed by the demand they face, resulting in worrying backlogs of emergency jobs”.
The picture is clear. Despite Tory bluster, the police are overstretched, they are attempting to deal with more crime and more complex crime, and this Government are providing them with fewer resources in real terms to do that. We heard tonight about some of our poorest communities feeling the need to pay for private protection. We saw in the constabulary report that policemen and women are responding to 999 calls the next day. That is happening on this Government’s watch. Instead of accusing us of shroud waving, they should address the real concerns among policemen and women and in communities about this Government’s failure to fund policing properly.
In the short time left to me, I shall try to answer many of the valid, important and heartfelt points that colleagues from across the House have made about police funding. This is an important debate. We all value our police and we all wish we had more money to spend on policing and the rest of public services across the United Kingdom, but of course we have to live in an economic climate in which we are paying off the debt and trying to live within our means. [Interruption.] Opposition Members might not like it, but we spend £87,000 a minute servicing the interest on our national debt. That is three police officers’ salaries every minute of the day, but for which we get nothing back.
That is the legacy of the Labour party, and that is why I was as angry as the shadow Home Secretary, because the impact of that type of debt always falls on the poorest in society. The debt that a Government rack up is always paid for by the vulnerable and the poor, whatever the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) says. Like the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), I have been in this House long enough to see different Governments tackle the problem of crime. As a Member of this House for 30 years, under Labour and Conservative Governments, the right hon. Lady will have seen crime go up and down and the police under pressure, no matter how much budgets are sometimes forced to change.
I do not have time to give way.
We heard a number of contributions in the debate. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) gave the usual off-the-shelf SNP answer, which is that, despite all the powers that we have given the Scottish Parliament, including tax-raising powers, and the above-average spending, England should pay. Somehow that is the SNP’s solution to everything, rather than facing up to the issues.
My hon. Friends the Members for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) pointed out that part of this debate has to be about recognising whether PCCs are delivering on their freedoms to help to shape policing in their communities. Some are and some are not, irrespective of their parties. The best example that I can give of the power of good leadership is Durham constabulary, Chief Constable Mike Barton and a Labour PCC delivering a force graded as outstanding in England, despite pressure on their budgets and on policing. Their leadership—[Interruption.] “Government cuts”—I love it. It is the old mantra. Labour runs up the debt, we have to fix the economy—and unfortunately ordinary people pay.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) made an important point. I am sure he will be pleased to know that we have increased capital funding in south Wales to establish a joint counter-terrorism unit and the regional organised crime unit, as well as in Gwent, to make sure that we are attacking the threat collectively and strongly.
My hon. Friends the Members for Moray (Douglas Ross) and for Angus (Kirstene Hair) made a strong point about counter-terrorism policing, because Labour is incorrect, even at the heart of today’s motion, about the £54 million shortfall in funding for counter-terrorism. If the Opposition are going to put something like that at the heart of their motion, one might think they might get it right. All the money that the police asked for to respond to operational pressures from counter-terrorism was given. They did not ask for £54 million; they did not get. Before Labour Members put that in their motion, I would recommend they seek some accuracy.
No, I will not. I have a second to finish and the hon. Lady has had her say.
The hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) gave a valid and thoughtful speech. The challenges in West Yorkshire are almost unique—that is why it is a Prevent priority area—with serious organised crime and inter-community threats to each other and, indeed, the state. That is why we have increased counter-terrorism across a broad front, not just in local, specialist policing. We have used the full weight of Government, with Prevent, intelligence officers and GCHQ, as well as the regional organised crime units and the National Crime Agency, to ensure that we meet the threat. What was said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton was inaccurate. There were no swingeing cuts. The bodies that we are using to tackle gun crime—the NCA, GCHQ and the ROCUs—have not been subject to draconian cuts as he claimed, and we are starting to produce some results.
Ultimately, this is a situation that we would not have wished for. However, we have to deal with what we inherited from a Labour Government who were unable to manage the economy, and in the end it is always the public who pay for economic mismanagement. The police are not alone, and my constituents are not alone. No one in the House will be fooled by the leader of the Labour party, who, when I was patrolling the streets with the police in the 1990s, was supporting, voting and fraternising with some of the worst terrorists in the United Kingdom. We will not forget the Leader of the Opposition, and we will not forget what they tried to do to our police and this country.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I beg to move that the question be now put.
The point of order is not required. I think the Minister has concluded his speech, so we will go straight to the vote.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It would nevertheless be possible for someone else to rise.
It would, but it would equally possible for me not to see that person. None the less, I think that the right hon. Gentleman is going to achieve his objective perfectly properly in procedural terms, and I thank him for what he has said.